In Pennsylvania, the Protection From Abuse Act is in place to help victims of abuse get the protection they need from abusers. One thing the Protection From Abuse Act authorizes is for courts to issue Protection From Abuse orders, or PFAs. A PFA can be an important resource for someone who is struggling to protect themselves or their children from abuse, but in order to get a PFA, you have to know how to apply and how PFA cases work. Similarly, if you are someone who is accused of domestic violence or unlawful restraint and you have a PFA requested against you, you should know what happens next and what you need to do to defend yourself.
PFAs in Pennsylvania
A PFA is a type of protection order that legally prohibits one person (the defendant) from coming into contact with or going near another person (the petitioner). It offers protection to someone who has allegedly suffered from domestic abuse from a member of their household. If this person feels they or their kids are at risk of domestic violence, they can request a PFA, which will take effect as soon as a judge approves it. A PFA initially lasts ten days, after which time there is a final PFA hearing with the plaintiff and the respondent to determine if the PFA is dropped or made permanent. A permanent PFA can last up to three years in Pennsylvania.
The Requirements for Requesting a PFA
Unlike a restraining order, a PFA cannot be requested against just anyone. The defendant in a PFA case must be a “household member” of the alleged victim. The relationship between the petitioner and the defendant must be one of the following:
- Formerly married or dating
- Living together
- Have a child together
A household member can either be someone you are in a romantic relationship with or have a family relationship with. If you live with relatives, for example, you would be able to request a PFA against them if you feel they threaten you with abuse. Also, it's important to note the relationship between the petitioner and the defendant does not have to be current to qualify as a domestic relationship.
A petitioner for a PFA must also be at least 18 years old. If someone who is under 18 wants to request a PFA, they must have an adult submit the petition on their behalf. Also, if a petitioner doesn't qualify for a PFA based on the above requirements, there are other types of protection orders that might apply.
What Does a PFA Cover?
A petitioner must go to their local family court at the county courthouse to complete a form if they want to request a PFA against someone else. A petition usually requires details such as the date, time, and location of an alleged incident. A PFA can be issued for the following types of allegations:
- False imprisonment
- Stalking or harassment
- Sexual assault
- Threats of assault
- Physical or sexual abuse of a minor child
Under Pennsylvania law, mental and emotional abuse are considered harmful, but not a basis for requesting a PFA. A judge can issue a PFA if someone is facing imminent harm, though.
It's also worth noting that a PFA can protect more than one person. If the petitioner believes their child is in danger of abuse as well, they can request that the protection order extends to the child as well. A PFA with this type of provision would prevent the defendant from contacting or coming near both the petitioner and the child, even if the defendant shares the child with the petitioner or has custodial rights.
What Is Unlawful Restraint?
In Pennsylvania, unlawful restraint is a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. The Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes at Title 18, Section 2902, defines unlawful restraint as:
- Knowingly restraining someone unlawfully in circumstances exposing them to risk of serious bodily injury
- Knowingly holding another in the condition of involuntary servitude
If unlawful restraint is committed against a minor, it's a second-degree felony, which is punishable by 5-10 years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000.
Is an Unlawful Restraint Charge the Same as Domestic Abuse?
If you are accused of unlawful restraint involving a household member, you could face two cases, one criminal and one civil. Unlawful restraint is a criminal offense, but a PFA is a civil matter. A PFA only becomes a criminal matter if you violate it. It's possible, then, that you would have a criminal charge for unlawful restraint and a civil PFA against you at the same time.
These two cases would be handled separately, and both could lead to protection orders that force you to stay away from the petitioner, as well as other family members.
How a Family Law Attorney Can Help
As a victim of unlawful restraint, you should know how to request a PFA for your own or your family's protection. As soon as you've gotten the legal order, you should also contact a family law attorney. You will have to argue your case at a hearing shortly after getting the initial PFA, and an attorney can help you prepare. If you are on the other end of a PFA and accused of unlawful restraint, you will also want the expertise of a family law lawyer to help you understand the best way to defend yourself.
If you have questions about PFAs or unlawful restraint, our legal team at Lento Law Firm can help. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has worked on many PFA cases and understands how to handle delicate family law cases. For questions about your case, contact Lento Law Firm by calling 888-535-3686.