Victims of domestic violence seek Protection from Abuse orders for various reasons. Obvious reasons include trying to prevent potential future domestic violence, harassment, and similar concerns, if not trying to prevent contact altogether. Less obvious reasons may be to have the PFA court address child custody for example; a form of relief that is available to plaintiffs in Protection from Abuse actions. Parties, both plaintiffs and defendants, therefore often ask, "What forms of relief are available in Pennsylvania PFA cases?" The answer to this question remains the same whether the domestic violence case is taking place in Philadelphia, Montgomery County, Delaware County, Bucks County, or Chester County. Ultimately, before a plaintiff files for a PFA, and before a defendant walks into the courtroom to defend against a PFA, it is important to understand what forms of relief are available when a Protection from Abuse is granted.
What Kinds of Relief Are Available in Pennsylvania PFA Cases?
Under Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes Title 23 § 6108, a plaintiff may be awarded the following forms of relief when a PFA is granted:
- It may seem obvious, but the PFA defendant can be directed by Family Court to stop abusing the PFA plaintiff. In cases where the plaintiff files on behalf of a minor child or minor children, Family Court can direct the defendant to stop abusing the child or children named in the PFA petition. Family Court can also prohibit the defendant from stalking or harassing the plaintiff and other designated persons. The defendant can also be ordered to have no contact of any kind with the plaintiff and/or minor child or children. "No contact of any kind" is as its name implies, and would include no contact in person, via phone, text message, email, social media, and so forth. This is often the most common form of relief awarded by Family Court. In certain instances, the defendant can be ordered to have no contact with third parties connected to the plaintiff.
- The PFA defendant can be evicted from the residence or household he or she shares with the PFA plaintiff. This form of relief is available to the plaintiff even if the defendant's name is on the lease or deed, and even if the defendant is responsible for the rent or mortgage payments. The plaintiff can be granted possession of the shared residence or household, and the defendant can be ordered to continue to pay the rent or mortgage payments for example. This is often one of the most extreme forms of relief that can be awarded to a PFA plaintiff, but is nonetheless a form of relief that is often granted by Family Court if circumstances are appropriate. PFA defendants often are blindsided when such relief is granted because they do not realize that they can be evicted from the place they call home. Because Pennsylvania protection from abuse orders can last for three (3) years, such an eviction can seriously upend a defendant's life for a significant period of time.
- A PFA plaintiff can be awarded temporary custody of a minor child or minor children when a PFA and child custody are at issue. Family Court can also establish temporary visitation rights to the plaintiff. When temporary custody or visitation is awarded to the plaintiff by a PFA judge, it often is at the expense of the defendant's custodial rights. In addition, whether a PFA is granted exclusively for the protection of a minor child or minor children, or if the child or children are named as plaintiffs along with a parent, the parent (or other party with possible custodial rights) who is the defendant can have a very difficult time trying to address child custody in custody court while the PFA remains in effect.
- The PFA defendant can be ordered to pay financial support to whomever the defendant has a duty to support. For example, the defendant can be ordered to pay for the financial support of a wife or husband, a girlfriend or boyfriend if circumstances warrant such action, and/or a minor child or children. If a wife seeks a PFA against her husband, and Family Court grants the PFA against the husband, the wife can make the argument that the husband should be ordered to pay her rent or mortgage while the PFA based on the husband's legal duty to do so. Family Court can consider such an argument, and can either grant or deny the requested relief. Because such considerations are often not the primary concern when responding to a PFA action, defendants should be mindful that they may be deemed responsible for such financial expenses so that they are not blindsided if such a request by the plaintiff is made. Even non-married parties may be deemed by Family Court to have a legal duty to one another. This is another reason why the proper precautions must be taken when either seeking or defending against a PFA, including obtaining the necessary legal counsel.
- The PFA defendant can be prohibited from acquiring or possessing a firearm, firearm license, ammunition, other weapon, and so forth, as long as the PFA remains in effect. If the defendant has a firearm, weapon, and the like, at the time the PFA is granted, the defendant can be ordered to relinquish the firearm, weapon, and anything related to the local sheriff's department.
- The PFA defendant can be ordered to pay the PFA plaintiff for reasonable losses suffered as a result of the abuse. Although Family Court often does not order that the plaintiff's attorney's fees be paid by the defendant, such requested relief can be requested.
- To allow Family Court broad discretion in addressing the potential concerns of the PFA plaintiff, any other appropriate relief requested by the plaintiff can be granted. Such requested relief would be considered and ruled upon on a case-by-case basis.
The Stakes Are High
The stakes are high in Protection from Abuse cases for both plaintiffs and defendants, and at times, for children when involved in such matters. Plaintiffs seeking protection need to make sure that everything that can be done to obtain a final PFA is done so that they or their loved ones can be protected from potential future abuse. Defendants responding to the allegations in a PFA must make sure that their interests are protected because when a PFA is issued against a defendant, the consequences can be severe and long-term, and can affect not only greatly impact a defendant's employment, professional, and academic goals, but their child custody rights, also their basic constitutional rights, including where they call home and their ability to own or carry a firearm. In addition, if a PFA is granted against a defendant, violating a PFA can result in additional consequences yet, including criminal charges and the prospect of jail time.
A Pennsylvania PFA attorney can help a plaintiff or defendant get the result they need. Contact attorney Joseph D. Lento today to learn how he can help.