Domestic violence is a very serious and sensitive problem. Receiving threatening text messages or calls, physical abuse to the body, or showing up to your house unannounced and uninvited and making threats are all circumstances that may make someone consider filing for a PFA Order. If you find yourself in need of protection against domestic violence, the Protection from Abuse process provides a way to obtain protection from your abuser.
I have represented plaintiffs and defendants in PFA matters, and I understand the stress that comes along with obtaining or defending a PFA Order and how serious PFA matters should be handled. Whether you are filing a PFA against someone else or have had one filed against you, it is important to understand what a PFA is and how the PFA system works so that you can be prepared.
What is a PFA?
Many times we hear a protection from abuse (“PFA”) order incorrectly referred to as a “restraining order.” In Pennsylvania, it is a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order, not a restraining order that is issued by the court to protect victims of domestic violence, and, in some cases, their children, from their abuser.
A PFA Order is a civil order that protects a person and/or their minor children from domestic abuse by their abuser. A PFA Order will do several things to protect the victim:
- require an abuser to abide by certain requirements, such as refraining from being in the presence of the victim(s);
- prevent an abuser from stalking, harassing, threatening, abusing, or attempting to use physical force;
- and prevent an abuser from contacting the victim(s) or third parties to relay or get in contact with the victim(s) protected under the PFA Order.
A PFA Order also may evict the abuser from a shared residence, may prohibit the abuser from possessing any firearms, and may award temporary physical custody of the parties’ children to the victim.
Who can a PFA Order be issued against?
The Pennsylvania PFA Act sets forth specific rules on who a victim of domestic violence can file a PFA against.
When obtaining a PFA Order, the person filing (called the petitioner or plaintiff) must file against at least one of the following:
a family member;
- a household member;
- a sexual or intimate partners; and
- persons who share biological children.
This means that you cannot file a PFA against a friend or neighbor unless they fall into one of the categories above.
What is the definition of “abuse”?
The PFA act defines “abuse” in a specific way. Under the PFA Act, the following actions constitute abuse for which a PFA Order can be issued:
- Attempting to cause or causing with or without a deadly weapon: bodily injury or serious bodily injury; rape’ involuntary deviate sexual intercourse; sexual assault; statutory sexual assault; aggravated sexual assault; indecent assault; incest;
- Placing someone in reasonable fear of imminent bodily injury;
- False Imprisonment;
- Physical or sexual abuse of a child; or
- Knowingly engaging in a course of conduct or repeatedly committing acts toward another person, including following the person in reasonable fear of bodily injury.
What are the different types of PFA Orders?
There are 2 different types of PFA Orders depending on where you are in the PFA process.
- Temporary PFA Order
A temporary PFA Order is granted when the petitioner/plaintiff files a petition for PFA and an ex parte communication (communication between only the petitioner/plaintiff and the judge) occurs, where a judge may grant or deny the petition. If the judge grants the petition, then a Temporary PFA Order is in effect and a Final PFA Hearing is scheduled within ten business days.
- Final PFA Order
After a hearing, a final PFA Order may be granted if the petitioner/plaintiff proved by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant abused him/her and/or their minor child(ren). A Final PFA Order can last up to three years and can be extended under certain circumstances. A Final PFA Order is not expungable. An expungement means removing any trace or indication from all offices and the Protection From Abuse Database that may hold records that a PFA Order was ever filed against the defendant.
If you find yourself in need of an attorney to advise you on how to file a PFA or if you find yourself defending against a PFA, contact one of our attorneys to discuss your options and the best ways to prepare for your hearing.