Physical or sexual abuse, or the fear of such, is traumatic. You can and should seek immediate help to protect yourself or your children. But you should also be aware that there are legal protections in place to help keep you safe. The main one, if your abuser is related to you, is a Protection From Abuse (PFA) order.
A PFA case in Pennsylvania is designed to prohibit or limit contact from an abuser to a victim. Though it is a civil action, certain violations are criminal offenses.
You can get a PFA by appearing before an assigned Judge at your county’s Court of Common Pleas without the abuser present to obtain a temporary, emergency PFA. The final hearing date will be within 10 days. If your Court of Common Pleas is closed, the police can help you contact a District Judge for a temporary, emergency order.
For the purposes of the PFA law, “abuse” is defined as:
Protection by the PFA
The PFA protects abuse victims who are related to the abuser in one of these ways: spouse or ex-spouse, current or former intimate partner, parent, child, biological sibling and certain others related by blood or marriage.
A PFA protects you by prohibiting further abuse and, in many cases, limiting or prohibiting direct or indirect contact (including phone calls, messaging/texting, and third parties' messages) from the abuser. It can temporarily give you possession of a home, denying the abuser access to the home. It can also require the abuser to surrender any firearms to the sheriff’s department and forbid the purchase of new firearms. Where appropriate, it can also give you temporary custody of your children.
A PFA can offer protection to your children by giving you temporary custody of your children or, if they are also victims of abuse, in the same way it protects you.
Alternatives to the PFA
Similar orders to PFAs include PSV (Protection from Sexual Violence) and PFI (Protection from Intimidation) orders. PSVs protect adults and minors who are victims of sexual offenses while PFIs protect minors from intimidation or harassment by adults. The main difference between PSVs, PFIs and PFAs are that PSVs and PFIs don’t require the same relationship to the abuser as the PFA does.
All of these orders have advantages in addition to or instead of filing a criminal report. They provide immediate protections and fast resolutions and have their own protections for victims. And as civil court hearings, they only require proof that the abuse has probably occurred, whereas a criminal trial would require proof beyond a reasonable
WE CAN HELP
One of our domestic abuse attorneys will represent PFA petitioners at final PFA hearings, regardless of income. An attorney will represent PSV or PFI petitioners at final hearings if they financially quality for our services. We also have paralegals to assist the most at-risk victims’ protection, housing, economic and child custody needs. Finally, we can provide advice to you if you think you are a victim of abuse or want to warn a potential abuser against further contact.
THE COUNTY COURT PROCESS
Domestic Violence Services of Southwestern PA will help you draft the petition and coordinate the emergency hearing. They can be reached at (724) 562-7016 and are located at our office at 45 East Main Street, third floor, Uniontown, PA 15401.
Domestic Violence Services of Southwestern PA will help you draft the petition and coordinate the emergency hearing. They can be reached at (724) 852-2463 and are located at 43 North Morgan Street, Waynesburg, PA 15370.
The legal aid office located at 218 North Kimberly Avenue, Suite 101, Somerset, PA 15501 will help you draft the petition and coordinate the emergency hearing.
Domestic Violence Services of Southwestern PA or a PFA Coordinator employed by the Court of Common Pleas are both located at the Washington County Courthouse and help you draft the petition and coordinate the emergency hearing. Domestic Violence Services can be reached at (724) 223-8349.
The PFA law is found at 23 Pa.C.S. Chapter 61. The PSV and PFI law is found at 42 Pa.C.S. Chapter 62A.
For more online information, go to www.palawhelp.org.
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