Being served with a protection from abuse order (PFA) is not something most people ever expect to receive. These orders not only bar the accused individual from getting close to the petitioner (the person requesting the PFA) but also restricts them from visiting certain places that the petitioner frequents and from speaking to the petitioner's family or friends, even if those individuals are also the family or friends of the accused individual.
Additionally, the collateral consequences of a PFA can go beyond these limitations and affect various aspects of the accused individual's life, negatively impacting things like employment, professional licensing, and child custody battles. It is possible to contest a PFA or have it removed, though there are time constraints you must be aware of.
What is a Protection from Abuse Order?
In Pennsylvania, a protection from abuse order (PFA) is a court order that prohibits an abuser from having contact with the victim of domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault. There are three types of PFAS:
- Emergency PFAs can be issued on public holidays, weekends, and evenings if the petitioner can show they are in immediate danger. These types of PFAs only last a few days, giving the petitioner enough time to file for a temporary PFA.
- Temporary PFAs are protection orders that last up to ten days. During the ten days, a hearing for a final PFA must be scheduled.
- Final PFAs are permanent orders that are only awarded if the presiding judge believes the accused individual is guilty of the abuse the petitioner alleges.
Anyone in a domestic relationship can petition for a PFA. Domestic relationships in Pennsylvania are categorized as relationships between current or former spouses or partners; children, parents, grandparents, and other blood relatives; relatives by marriage; and individuals who share a biological child. To qualify for the PFA, the petitioner will have to present evidence that the accused individual committed an act of abuse, which is defined, in Pennsylvania, as:
- Knowingly or recklessly causing, or attempting to cause, serious bodily harm.
- Placing the petitioner, or a minor, in fear of serious bodily harm.
- False imprisonment.
- Physical or sexual abuse of a minor.
- Continuously engaging in actions that put someone in fear of bodily injury.
While the primary purpose of a PFA is to provide protection to the victim or victims, there are also some collateral consequences that can result from having a PFA issued against someone. It is important to note that the specific consequences of a PFA can vary depending on the circumstances of each case, and the court's orders may differ based on the severity of the abuse and other relevant facts.
When a PFA is granted, the accused may be prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition and could also be required to surrender any firearms they already own. If the PFA includes a firearm restriction, the accused will have 24 hours to surrender their firearms to the district attorney of their jurisdiction, law enforcement officers, or a licensed gun dealer. If the accused does not relinquish their firearms on time, they will be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor, which will legally bar the defendant from possessing, acquiring, or owning a firearm.
Sometimes, though, an accused individual can contest the forfeiture or attempt to compromise with the court and the plaintiff.
PFA orders typically inform the accused individual of how close they can get to the petitioner without violating their PFA. As such, this can wreak havoc on living situations and employment. If the accused and the petitioner both work at the same place or reside together, the petitioner will have to find a new job or move out of the residence. This can be both time-consuming and expensive depending on where in Pennsylvania the accused individual lives.
Child Custody and Visitation
A PFA may affect child custody and visitation arrangements if the accused is the parent of the petitioner's children. In most cases, for the PFA to extend to the children, the petitioner must also allege that the accused is abusing the children as well. If the couple has a current child custody agreement, the PFA may override its stipulations and prohibit the accused from seeing, approaching, or visiting the children until a judge has made its final decision on the PFA.
Additionally, if the court sees that the accused is abusing, or has abused, the children, the final PFA will establish a new custody and visitation arrangement, which may include supervised visitation. Final PFAs tend to last about three years, at which time the accused can apply to have the custody and visitation plan renegotiated.
In some cases, a PFA may result in the accused individual being terminated from their job, particularly if their job involves working with vulnerable populations like children. Moreover, a PFA can wreck your personal reputation and could worry employers, making them less likely to trust you.
The collateral consequences of a restraining order are not only limited to practical implications but can also have psychological effects on the accused individual. For instance, complying with the order can be incredibly stressful because it may not always be easy to avoid contact with the petitioner. Furthermore, being served with a restraining order can cause self-esteem issues and guilt, which can result in feelings of embarrassment and shame. But even the accused need support systems, and, unfortunately, when anyone suffers from low self-esteem or shame, it can force them to retreat from their friends and family – essentially isolating themselves in times of need.
How a Skilled Criminal Professional Can Help
Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Family Law Team at the Lento Law Firm have unparalleled experience when it comes to PFA orders. They understand how causal and collateral consequences can seriously impact both the accused and the petitioner. Thus, they are committed to helping their clients get back to normal life. Call 818-535-3686 today or schedule a consultation online. Attorney Lento and Lento Law Firm can help.