In Pennsylvania, domestic abuse is a serious matter. The commonwealth recognizes the harm domestic violence causes to all those involved. Victims of domestic abuse may experience fear and trauma from which they cannot recover.
Since domestic abuse is such a consequential offense, being wrongfully accused of committing it is also distressing. Measures meant to protect victims of violence are instead manipulated to inflict serious penalties on innocent people.
Pennsylvania uses Protection from Abuse (PFA) orders to help victims of domestic violence get legal protection without having to settle the matter with a hearing. To protect victims, the rules and penalties of a PFA are strict. Due to the harsh restrictions, you might feel overwhelmed by stress and anxiety if you're subject to a PFA in Pennsylvania. By following the conditions of the PFA, consulting with an experienced family law attorney, and keeping a level head, you can reduce some of this stress.
What is a PFA?
PFA stands for Protection from Abuse. In Pennsylvania, Protection from Abuse orders function like restraining orders. When a victim gets a PFA against another individual, the alleged abuser must stay away from the victim and stop contacting them. The PFA is one of the courts' primary tools for fighting domestic violence and is meant to help victims of domestic abuse get protection from their abusers.
Requirements to Bring a PFA Order Against You
Unlike a restraining order, a PFA cannot be filed between strangers or people with casual relationships, like co-workers. The people involved must either be married or previously married, parents of the same child, co-habitants or former co-habitants, or current or former dating partners.
A PFA is also a civil matter, not a criminal one. If a PFA is brought against you, it will go on your civil record. Even if it's not on your criminal record, a PFA could still have devastating impacts on your life. A victim can force you to move out of your home if you're co-habitants. If you have children, you could be prohibited from seeing them.
A PFA stops abuse, threats, harassment, and stalking. You're also no longer allowed to contact the individual who gets the PFA against you. You may have to relinquish any weapons or gun permit, attend a batterers counseling program, or reimburse the victim for out-of-pocket expenses that resulted from the abuse as well. If you had custody over children before the PFA, you could lose custody temporarily.
What happens if you violate a PFA?
Even if the allegations in a PFA are false, you could still face serious consequences for violating the PFA. If the person who requested the PFA against you calls the police for breaking the conditions, you can be arrested and subject to a contempt hearing. If you're found in contempt of court, you could be fined up to $1,000 and incarcerated for six months.
Can you get a PFA expunged?
Getting a PFA removed from your record is complicated. The decision to remove the PFA varies from case to case, and Pennsylvania law isn't explicit about the issue. Bear in mind, however, that if an employer or someone else wants to obtain your civil record, it's much harder to get than your criminal record.
Why a PFA Order is Stressful
Being the subject of a PFA in Pennsylvania is frustrating at the least. At most, it's a draining, arduous position to be in. In most situations, there's no immediate action you can take to make the PFA go away and get your life back to normal.
If a PFA has been brought against you, then you might be experiencing strife with a partner, former partner, roommate, or another person close to you. Struggles in personal relationships are enough to cause you worry. Legal action against you—with the threat of a hefty fine and jail time looming over you if you mess up—adds to your concerns.
Stress from false accusations
What might be the most worrisome about being the subject of a PFA is when the other person involved has made false accusations against you. Most judges will grant the PFA if there's any uncertainty because they'd rather err on the side of keeping someone safe from abuse. Once you're hit with a PFA that's been falsely issued, there's not much you can do in the short-term to fix it.
A PFA can put your whole life into upheaval. It's no wonder this process can cause such turmoil. It's worse when you know that you're not an abuser, and that the person who requested the order against you lied.
Dealing with the Stress of a PFA
Being the subject of a PFA in Pennsylvania puts you in a difficult position. The process will put emotional strain on you and may lead to anxiety. It can be easy to lose your cool and let the tension overwhelm you, but you must remain calm and level-headed if you want to fight a PFA. Remember, Pennsylvania courts will often side with the victim if there's a lack of evidence. Your acting out gives the judge a reason to grant a final PFA against you.
Several actions can keep your anxiety at bay and help you fight a PFA.
Handling False Accusations of a PFA
Unfortunately, people sometimes use PFAs and similar orders to manipulate a situation to their benefit. They make false claims and get a PFA against someone who's innocent of domestic abuse.
What if someone lies to get a Protection From Abuse order?
There's not much you can do right away about a PFA that someone lied to obtain. By going near that person or trying to contact them, you'll violate the PFA. If the person has notified you that they're dropping the PFA, you should still follow the conditions until it's officially nullified by a judge.
If you've been served a temporary PFA, a formal hearing with a judge, witnesses, and testimony will take place within 10 business days. At the hearing, you'll have the chance to present your side of the story. Following the rules spelled out in the PFA—even if it moves vacating your home immediately—and contacting an experienced family law and defense attorney is your best course of action.
Why would someone lie to get a PFA?
People have several reasons to lie for a PFA. Usually, they're taking a shortcut to get something they want. Since the PFA is processed quickly, some individuals rely on it as a short-term solution.
Examples of lying to get a PFA in Pennsylvania
- An ex-spouse might want custody of your children, so they claim you've been abusing them
- A roommate might want you out of the house, so they allege you've committed domestic abuse
- An ex-partner might want revenge, so they get a PFA without telling you and if you contact them, you've violated the PFA and could be arrested, fined, or sent to jail
Follow the Conditions of the Order and Wait
When you're first served with a PFA, you might feel like acting immediately. When your emotions are high, however, you're more likely to make a rash decision that could be detrimental to you in fighting the PFA. If you plan to defend yourself against the PFA, you should stay calm, follow the order exactly, and contact an attorney. Even if the other person lied to get PFA against you and you've never committed domestic abuse, declining legal representation, in this case, could lead to negative results for you.
Communication during the PFA process is essential. You shouldn't contact the person who requested the PFA against you, even if they contact you. Keep all the phone calls, voicemails, emails, text messages, or other communications they send you so you and your attorney have a record. If you respond to any of these communications after the PFA has been issued, the PFA-seeker's counsel can use your responses as evidence against you.
Gather Evidence to Fight the PFA
While you're waiting for the hearing, gather as much evidence as you can. It can be hard to find evidence that you have not abused someone—you're trying to find proof of something that didn't happen. Still, you can look for ways to disprove your accuser's claims. If they say you abused them via phone or text messages, a log of calls and SMS activity from the phone company showing no contact during the alleged period would disprove this claim.
Your attorney can help you look for other forms of documentation that would show you're not abusing the alleged victim. Throughout this process, focus on accumulating the documents you need to protect yourself. This methodical work will help keep your mind occupied and make you feel accomplished—two great ways to overcome stress.
Keep Things Civil
One way to keep your stress levels low is by avoiding a PFA altogether. If your relationship with someone is growing bitter, be careful. You don't want to give the other person a reason to ask for a PFA against you and it doesn't take much to trigger a PFA. One threat is enough. Even if you act out physically without hurting the other person (breaking furniture, punching a wall, etc.), they could still request a PFA against you. If the relationship is rocky, communication through texts or emails is best. Legal counsel can use these messages as evidence at a PFA hearing. Coming in direct contact with the person might be unavoidable and if so, bringing a witness to the interaction will help safeguard you later.
Although it might be hard, staying civil is one of the best things you can do to mitigate stress during this difficult time. Both before the PFA and after it's served, try to keep your cool and conduct yourself carefully.
Talk with Someone
Dealing with a PFA is stressful and it might help to work through your feelings with a trusted friend, family member, or qualified therapist. Having someone who's willing to listen to you without judgment is more beneficial than you might think. Although a friend or family member might not be able to help with the PFA situation directly, they can help you stay calm so you don't make a poor decision. When you're chronically stressed, you can develop anxiety. A blow to your mental health is never a good thing, but it's especially bad if you're dealing with a PFA.
In some cases, following a PFA means leaving your home, partner, or children. Even temporarily, these ruptures can distress you and make you feel isolated. Having a person to lean on emotionally makes this situation less painful.
When you're worried, the last piece of advice you want is to “stay calm.” As it concerns a PFA, however, staying calm will be a big benefit to you. If you're fighting a PFA, you're trying to show that you are not an abuser, nor are you an imminent threat to the safety of the other person involved. Losing your temper, acting rashly, and letting stress get the better of you won't portray you well.
Instead of letting your emotions build up, take things one at a time. After you've been served a PFA, meet its conditions first—as soon as possible. Once you're nowhere near the person who has a PFA against you, contact an attorney to figure out the next steps. It's much easier to stay calm if you plan. Whenever you feel your emotions getting the better of you, contact a trusted friend or family member to help quiet yourself down.
Hire a Family Law Attorney
It's tempting to handle a PFA on your own, but having an experienced attorney to represent your case gives you a much better fighting chance. For something as serious as a PFA, you don't want to make any mistakes. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the experienced family law and defense attorneys at Lento Law Firm are ready to help you defend yourself. For help fighting a PFA or to learn more about it, call the firm at 888-535-3686.