Protection from Abuse cases that take place in Montgomery County, as with all Pennsylvania counties, fall under the jurisdiction of the Pennsylvania Protection from Abuse Ace; codified in Pennsylvania Family Law under the statute known as 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6101. (Protection from Abuse cases are also known as "PFA" cases in Montgomery County and throughout Pennsylvania.)
Where Do I File for a PFA in Montgomery County?
A complainant who seeks protection from domestic violence, spousal abuse, or child abuse (on behalf of a minor child or children) in Montgomery County must personally appear at the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas, also referred to as the Montgomery County Courthouse, any Monday through Friday. Specifically, Montgomery County's Protection from Abuse Department is located on the first floor of the Montgomery County Courthouse. The designated hours to seek a PFA in Montgomery County are from 8:30 AM to 1:30 PM. Appearing in person in Norristown as early as possible from 8:30 AM onward on any given weekday will allow the PFA complainant sufficient time to attend to the necessary administrative steps in advance of appearing before a Family Court judge, and will allow sufficient time to address the Family Court judge when the complainant's "ex parte" case is called. (An "ex parte" temporary PFA hearing is the initial court hearing where only the complainant and the complainant's attorney, when represented, will appear before the Montgomery County Family Court judge.)
What is the "Petition" in a Montgomery County Protection from Abuse case?
As to the necessary administrative steps that a PFA complainant needs to take at Montgomery County Family Court in order to have the allegations of domestic violence or domestic abuse brought before a Family Court judge, the most important is the proper completion of the Protection from Abuse "petition." The PFA petition in Montgomery County, and throughout Pennsylvania for that matter, is how the complainant notifies Family Court why protection is needed. A properly-completed petition should describe the domestic violence suffered and the protection asked of the Court. After the petition is completed at Montgomery County Family Court, court staff will review it and may ask the complainant questions regarding the alleged domestic violence and abuse and related matters.
PFA complainants, also known as "plaintiffs" or "petitioners" should understand that Montgomery County Family Court is a division of the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas, which is where PFA hearings take place; both temporary "ex parte" PFA hearings and final PFA hearings scheduled, by Pennsylvania law, within ten (10) days after a temporary Protection from Abuse order is granted.
PFA hearings take place in Montgomery County Family Court located at 2 E. Airy Street, Norristown, PA 19401.
How Does a Victim of Abuse Get a Protection Order "After Hours" in Montgomery County?
Victims of domestic violence and domestic abuse who need help obtaining an emergency Protection from Abuse order after designated court hours should contact the Montgomery County Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-773-2424.
Other phone numbers that may be helpful for parties involved with Protection from Abuse cases in Montgomery County are as follows:
- Montgomery County Protection from Abuse Department - 610-278-1191
- Women's Center of Montgomery County - 610-279-1548
- Montgomery County Emergency Operation Center - 610-275-1222
- Laurel House (a domestic violence agency in Norristown which "offers an array of supportive programs and services to those who are impacted by domestic violence" ) - 24/7 hotline - 800-642-3150
What Happens After a Plaintiff Completes the PFA Petition at Montgomery County Family Court?
On the day of the "ex parte" hearing in Norristown, the Family Court judge assigned to hear the case will either:
- Grant the victim of the alleged domestic violence and abuse a "temporary" Protection from Abuse order and set a "final" PFA hearing date within ten (10) days; or will,
- Deny the request for a "temporary" Protection from Abuse order and set a "final" PFA hearing date within ten (10) days
How will the PFA Defendant in Montgomery County be Notified?
The Pennsylvania Protection from Abuse Act requires that defendants in domestic violence cases, whether it is a Montgomery County domestic violence case, or is taking place in any Pennsylvania county for that matter, have the absolute right to defend themselves from the allegations of abuse. Because of this most basic right, the named defendant in a Montgomery County PFA case has to be served "notice" of the PFA proceedings by the plaintiff. (Defendants in PFA cases are also known as "respondents.")
The notice that is required to be served upon the defendant will include that date, time, and location of the "final" PFA hearing, and will also include the allegations of abuse made against the defendant.by the plaintiff; or plaintiffs in cases involving allegations of abuse against a child or children. The plaintiff him of herself cannot serve the defendant however. The Montgomery County Sheriff may be of assistance in serving the defendant; an "uninterested" person over the age of 18 (not a party or witness to the case) or a private "process server" can also be used by the plaintiff to serve the defendant.
What Takes Place at the "Final" PFA Hearing in Montgomery County?
At the "final" Protection from Abuse hearing in Norristown, both the victim of the alleged abuse and the person accused are expected to appear in person. Defendants will often ask, and sometimes plaintiffs, "Can a PFA hearing in Montgomery County be continued?" A continuance may be requested by either party or either party's attorney for good cause. Montgomery County Family Court can either grant or deny such a request. If the request is granted, the temporary PFA will remain in effect in almost all instances until a final hearing can take place on the matter.
Whether the final hearing takes place on the originally-scheduled court date or at a later time, the order of the hearing will follow a standard procedure in most cases. The parties will be called into the courtroom, and if a trial is to take place, the judge will call the Court to order. Before the trial takes place, however, an important consideration that a party's attorney must attend to involves the potential interaction of parties and witnesses on the day of the hearing in Norristown.
Whether a plaintiff or defendant in a Montgomery County domestic violence case, it is critical that witnesses be "sequestered" outside the courtroom. "Sequestering" witnesses outside the courtroom means that the witnesses in the case are instructed to wait outside the courtroom, and is intended to help preserve integrity of the proceedings. For example, if the plaintiff's attorney does not do so, the defendant's attorney should ask the judge to "sequester" any witnesses so that when a witness testifies at trial, it will not be heard by other prospective witnesses sitting in the courtroom waiting for their turn to testify. An attorney experienced with Montgomery County domestic violence charges will understand the importance of sequestering witnesses in a Protection from Abuse case and will take the necessary steps to make sure this takes place.
What is the "Order" of the Final PFA Hearing in Montgomery County?
A final Protection from Abuse hearing in Norristown, where the domestic violence charges will be addressed, will proceed in the following order:
- The Plaintiff Presents His or Her Case - The alleged victim of domestic violence and abuse will have the opportunity to testify before a Montgomery County Family Court judge about every incident of abuse alleged in the petition. Past alleged acts of abuse committed by the person accused may, depending on the circumstances, also be testified to by the plaintiff and introduced into evidence. The plaintiff can also call witnesses to support his or her claims and present evidence such as hospital records, photographs, emails, text or voicemail messages, and bills that demonstrate damages or financial losses.
- Cross-examination by the Defendant Takes Place - The defendant will then have the opportunity to cross-examine the alleged victim and all witnesses that testified.
- The Defendant Presents His or Her Case -This is the alleged offender's opportunity to testify about their version of the events in question, call their own witnesses, and present their own evidence in an effort to rebut the plaintiff's claims.
- Cross-Examination by the PFA Plaintiff Takes Place - The alleged victim then gets the opportunity to cross-examine the defendant and their witnesses.
- "Redirect" by the Plaintiff Takes Place - The alleged victim can then offer "rebuttal" testimony and evidence to anything that the defendant may have presented. "Rebuttal" testimony and evidence is intended to."refute" testimony and evidence presented by the defendant. Depending on the particular circumstances of the Montgomery County PFA case, rebuttal evidence may include evidence not initially presented in the plaintiff's case, or it may include a new witness or witnesses who contradict the defendant's witness(es). As with all testimony and evidence, the Montgomery County PFA judge will decide what rebuttal evidence will and will not be allowed. This is especially true if an objection is made to any proferred testimony or evidence.
- The Judge Makes a Ruling — The Montgomery County PFA judge will make a decision based on a "preponderance of the evidence." This means that a final Protection from Abuse order can be issued against the defendant that provides all of the relief sought by the plaintiff even if the defendant's guilt was not proven "beyond a reasonable doubt," the burden of proof required in Montgomery County criminal court. Both plaintiffs and defendants in a PFA action must understand the "preponderance of the evidence" burden of proof because that what is required in order to have the judge find in one's favor. A "preponderance of the evidence" means that a party has shown that its version of facts, causes, damages, or fault is more likely than not the correct version. At the end of the Protection from Abuse hearing, the judge will briefly explain to the parties the basis for the decision that was made.
What Can Happen to a Defendant if a PFA is Granted in Montgomery County?
After all testimony and evidence is presented in the domestic violence case, the Family Court judge will call the hearing to a close and will deliberate. The judge will deliberate based upon a "preponderance of the evidence;" the burden of proof that Pennsylvania law requires the plaintiff in domestic violence cases to meet. As part of the judge's deliberation, the judge will weigh the testimony and evidence and base his or her decision on whether the plaintiff demonstrated by a "preponderance of the evidence" that the defendant committed domestic violence and abuse against the plaintiff as claimed. If the judge finds that the plaintiff did not meet his or her burden of proof in the PFA case, the judge will dismiss the PFA case against the defendant. If the judge finds that the plaintiff, as claimed, was the victim of domestic violence and abuse committed by the defendant, the judge will, in most instances, enter a final Protection from Abuse order against the defendant which can last for up to three (3) years in Pennsylvania (and which can be extended beyond the initial three years upon motion by the plaintiff or the plaintiff's attorney).
In determining the specifics of the final Protection from Abuse order, the judge will consider the plaintiff's specific requests, if any, and may grant or deny all or some requests made by the plaintiff. The judge's decision in this regard will be based on the specifics of the case at hand, including the nature of the domestic violence and abuse, the relationship between the parties, if the domestic violence case involved any children, and any other relevant considerations.
As to reasonable requests for relief that the victim of domestic violence and abuse can ask of Montgomery County Family Court after there is a finding against the defendant, some are as follows:
- The victim of domestic violence can ask the judge to order the abuser to stop threatening, harassing, stalking, and/or abusing the victim and/or the victim's child or children when involved named as plaintiffs in the Protection from Abuse case.
- The victim of domestic violence in Montgomery County can ask the judge to have the abuser evicted from a "joint residence" by the Montgomery County Sheriff's Department or other local law enforcement. The victim can also ask the judge to exclude the defendant from his or her residence, if not shared by the parties.
- The victim can ask Montgomery County Family to not make the victim's new address or location, if applicable, not known to the defendant. In doing so, the judge will make such information confidential and to be released to the defendant.
- The victim can ask the judge to order the defendant to not have any contact with the victim him or herself, the victim's child or children, family members, or third parties connected to the victim.
- The victim can ask the judge to prohibit the defendant from contacting the victim at home, work, school, and so forth.
- The victim can ask the judge for temporary custody of a child or children if the defendant otherwise has custody rights; if the defendant is the child or children's mother or father for example.
- The victim can ask the judge for temporary child support or spousal support in addition to reimbursement for other expenses that were caused by the abusive acts of the defendant.
- The victim can ask the judge to take away the defendant's firearm rights and order the defendant in the PFA case to surrender his or her weapons to the Montgomery County sheriff; weapons include can include guns, knives, and so forth.
- The victim can ask the judge to order any other relief as deemed appropriate by Montgomery County Family Court; for example, appropriate relief may be the return of the victim's clothes and personal belongings, a pet or pets, car or car keys, or important paperwork or personal effects.
A person facing domestic violence charges in Montgomery County must understand that Family Court's power in fashioning relief for the plaintiff is great if the defendant is found responsible for the plaintiff's alleged claims of abuse.
What is "Contempt" of a PFA in Montgomery County?
After a temporary PFA order or final PFA order is issued in Norristown, a victim of alleged abuse can call the police to report that the defendant violated the term of the PFA order. Although a defendant cannot be arrested and charged for violating financial provisions of a Pennsylvania PFA order, a defendant can be arrested and charged with criminal contempt of the PFA for allegedly violating other terms of the PFA order; stay-away provisions or no-contact provisions for example. It may not fair, but it merely takes a plaintiff to make an allegation that the defendant violated the PFA order in some manner for the defendant to be arrested and charged with contempt of a Protection from Abuse order in Pennsylvania.
Ultimately, a defendant can face contempt of a Protection from Abuse order in Montgomery County for various reasons. Alleged violations of the temporary PFA order or final PFA order in Montgomery County can result in criminal contempt charges being filed by the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office. Criminal contempt of a PFA is addressed separately from the underlying PFA itself. Because criminal contempt charges are "criminal" charges at its name implies, the burden of proof that needs to be met for a defendant to be found guilty of contempt is higher.
Unlike the Protection from Abuse case itself, however, where the plaintiff is the party making allegations against the defendant, in Montgomery County PFA contempt cases, the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office is the "moving party;" the party bringing the charges against the defendant. Although the burden of proof is higher in Protection from Abuse contempt cases in Pennsylvania, the stakes can also be higher depending on the particular defendant's circumstances.
Defendants facing PFA contempt charges will often ask, "What can happen if I am found guilty of criminal contempt of a PFA in Montgomery County?" If a person is found guilty of criminal contempt of a PFA, also to be addressed at the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas in Norristown, a defendant can, under 23 Pa.C.S. § 6114(b), be sentenced to jail for up to six (6) months, placed on probation, or fined. Potential jail time, probation, or fines aside, a defendant found guilty of criminal PFA contempt will also have a criminal record.
Unfortunately, a criminal record can greatly jeopardize a defendant's employment and professional goals, school and educational goals, and professional licensing in cases involving doctors, nurses, or teachers for example. A criminal record can also impact a person's firearms rights. Ultimately, a defendant facing allegations that he or she violated a PFA will be well-served to immediately seek the advice and counsel of a PFA contempt attorney.
Montgomery County PFA Attorney | Norristown PFA Attorney | PFA Contempt Attorney
Whether seeking a Protection from Abuse order in Montgomery County or defending against allegations of domestic violence or spousal abuse, the stakes can be high. For a PFA plaintiff who is subject to potential or actual harm at the hands of an abuser, a final order is needed to help ensure the plaintiff's safety. The plaintiff cannot risk obtaining a temporary order only to have it dismissed because they failed to meet their burden of proof at a final hearing.
On the other end of the battlefield is the PFA defendant, and the issuance of a Protection from Abuse order against a person can have serious negative consequences, both short and long-term. A temporary PFA can lead to a final PFA, and a final PFA can lead to further consequences yet. The potential of a PFA order resulting in criminal charges in Montgomery County is real.
Moreover, a PFA order in and of itself can jeopardize a person's employment, school, most basic rights, and the like. The stakes can be higher yet if a PFA defendant has to maintain a professional license or professional certification for work; as is the case with doctors, nurses, teachers, and so forth People who have to carry firearms for employment purposes also have to be extremely mindful as to the implications of having a final PFA issued against them by Montgomery County Family Court; police officers, probation and parole officers, correctional officers, and other law enforcement agents, for example.
Moreover, a PFA order in and of itself can jeopardize a person's employment, school, most basic rights, and the like. The stakes can be higher yet if a PFA defendant has to maintain a professional license or professional certification for work; as is the case with doctors, nurses, teachers, and so forth People who have to carry firearms for employment purposes also have to be extremely mindful as to the implications of having a final PFA issued against them; police officers, probation and parole officers, correctional officers, and other law enforcement agents, for example.
Ultimately, regardless of one's place in life, or the reasons why parties find themselves at Montgomery County Family Court, it is critical to take the proper steps to respond to and address a Protection from Abuse case, and an attorney familiar with Montgomery County PFA practice and procedure can help. If seeking a PFA, or defending against a PFA or a PFA contempt case in Norristown, contact attorney Joseph D. Lento today to learn how he can help.