When Does a PFA Expire?

A Protection from Abuse (PFA) order is a particular kind of restraining order signed by a judge. It's a directive to the abuser to cease the abuse or face serious legal consequences. A PFA is intended to provide civil legal protection from domestic violence, and it can apply to both female and male victims.

There are very specific rules about when PFAs expire or can be withdrawn. In these high-stakes situations that can affect every member of a family, having an experienced attorney can be a deciding factor in a case.

First, a few basics on PFAs and the parameters for each type.

Who Can be a Defendant in a PFA?

Adults (over 18) can seek this protection from acts of domestic abuse perpetrated on you or your minor child. The person from whom you seek protection under a PFA must be a family or household member, which includes:

  • Your spouse or former spouse
  • A common-law spouse or former common-law spouse
  • A sibling
  • Your parent or adult child
  • A family member related to you by blood or by marriage
  • A current or former intimate partner
  • Someone with whom you co-parent a child

What Constitutes Abuse?

It can be physical—an attempt to cause or cause:

  • Bodily injury
  • Sexual assault
  • Aggravated indecent assault
  • Indecency
  • Incest
  • Physical or sexual abuse of a minor

It can also be emotional abuse, putting another person in reasonable fear of immediate serious bodily injury, or repeatedly committing acts—including stalking and harassment—towards someone where they have a reasonable fear of bodily injury.

Types of PFAs

There are several types of PFAs, with each having different rules for expiry and extension.

During every stage of the process, both the defendant and the plaintiff have the right to legal representation—and having a skilled attorney can make a huge difference in the outcome.

  • Emergency orders are for immediate protection at times when the courts are closed—say, at night, on a weekend, or a holiday—and can be obtained by calling the local police or 911. These services will know which magisterial district judge is on call and a number where the judge can be reached.
    • If the judge believes the plaintiff—the person making the accusation of abuse—or minor children are in imminent danger, he or she may grant an emergency order. This PFA will only be valid until the next business day. It's intended to provide protection until the court opens and the plaintiff can request an ex parte temporary PFA (see below). If the plaintiff doesn't make it to court the next business day to apply for an ex parte temporary PFA, the emergency order will expire.
  • When the plaintiff requests the PFA, a judge—if he or she finds the plaintiff or minor children are in danger of further abuse and require immediate protection—will grant an ex parte temporary PFA. The term means that the defendant—the partner who is accused of abuse—isn't notified beforehand or present in court at the time the PFA is granted.
    • The temporary PFA will last until the full court hearing for a final PFA where the plaintiff has the chance to testify and present evidence to the court. Usually, a hearing is scheduled within ten business days.
    • If the defendant has a gun or other lethal weapon, the judge should be notified so he or she can order it turned over to law enforcement. It can also be handed over to the plaintiff's attorney—The Lento Law Firm, unlike most other firms, has the capacity to safely and legally store firearms in question in domestic violence cases.
  • A final PFA hearing at the county courthouse is the full chance for both the defendant and the plaintiff to make their cases.
    • If the plaintiff does not appear at the hearing, the court will likely interpret this as default and will dismiss the case. Conversely, if the defendant does not appear, the court will automatically put a PFA in place and could level a charge of contempt of court.
    • At the hearing, the onus is on the plaintiff to prove the abuse actually took place. The burden of proof to establish guilt is much lower in this type of civil case than it is in criminal proceedings. The standard is a “preponderance of evidence,” meaning the accuser only needs to prove it was more than 50 percent likely the abuse occurred.
    • If the plaintiff's side is unable to meet the standard of proof, the case will be dropped. For both sides, evidence gathering is key, but without an attorney who is well-versed in the complicated rules around the types of evidence the court will accept, it is challenging to make a compelling case. A good lawyer will be able to distinguish which evidence is relevant and what doesn't matter to the judge.

How Long Does a Final PFA Last, and Can It Be Extended?

A PFA can last up to three years and can be extended under certain circumstances. The law allows the judge to extend a PFA if the defendant commits one or more acts of abuse while the final PFA was in force or demonstrated behavior that indicates a continued risk of harm to the plaintiff or minor children named in the PFA. If the judge finds that these criteria haven't been met, he or she will decline an extension, and the PFA will have expired.

Should the plaintiff choose not to file for an extension, the PFA will automatically expire.

Can a PFA Be Withdrawn in Pennsylvania?

If a plaintiff decides the PFA is no longer necessary, there are ways to vacate or withdraw the claim. Every county in the commonwealth is different. In some, the plaintiff must formally file a motion to vacate the PFA and appear in court with a statement. Other jurisdictions may only require the plaintiff to request the court's PFA administrator to complete the necessary paperwork.

No matter which protocol, the plaintiff must be ready to explain to a judge why there is no longer a need for a PFA. The judge may disagree, and the PFA will remain in force. However, should the judge concur, the PFA will be deemed vacated and will effectively expire.

Attorney Joseph D. Lento has handled countless clients overcome the challenges associated with PFA cases in Pennsylvania, and he can help you. Call the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 today for a case consultation.

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Attorney Joseph D. Lento has unparalleled experience practicing Family Law in Pennsylvania. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you and your family, contact our offices today. Family Law Attorney Joseph D. Lento will go above and beyond the needs for any client and fight for what is fair.

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