Physical or sexual abuse, or the fear of such, is traumatic. You can, and should, always seek immediate help — there’s never a reason to be afraid of protecting yourself or your children. But you should also be aware that there are legal protections in place that you can use to help keep you safe. The main one, if your abuser is related to you, is a Protection from Abuse.

A Protection from Abuse case is a court action in Pennsylvania that is designed to prohibit or limit contact between an abuser and a victim. Though it is a civil action, certain violations are criminal offenses.

You can get one by appearing before a Family Court 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 Magistrate District Justice for an emergency order that will last until the next business day

For the purposes of a PFA, “abuse” is defined as:

  • Causing or attempting to cause injury or certain sexual offenses;
  • Causing reasonable fear of immediate, serious injury;
  • The crime of false imprisonment;
  • Physical or sexual abuse of the children protected and defined by the Child Protective Services Act; or
  • Repeatedly following, or other acts, that place you in reasonable fear of injury

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 various third parties) from the abuser. It can temporarily give you possession of a home, keeping the abuser from accessing 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

Related orders to the PFA include a PSV order (Protection from Sexual Violence) and a PFI order (Protection from Intimidation). 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 some advantages over filing a criminal report. They provide immediate protections and fast resolutions and they have their own protections for abuse victims. And as civil court hearings, they only require proof that the abuse has most likely occurred, whereas a criminal trial would require proof beyond a reasonable


One of our domestic abuse attorneys will represent any PFA petitioner at the final PFA hearing, regardless of income. An attorney will represent PSV or PFJ petitioners at the final hearings if they financially quality for our services. We also have an “emergency legal services” paralegal who will assist the most at-risk victims’ protection, housing, economic and child custody legal needs. Finally, we can provide individual advice to you if you think you might be a victim of abuse or want to warn a potential abuser against further contact.

Contact Us



Domestic Violence Services of Southwestern PA will help you draft the petition and coordinate the emergency hearing. They are located at our office at 45 East Main Street, Suite 101, Uniontown, PA 15401.


Domestic Violence Services of Southwestern PA will help you draft the petition and coordinate the emergency hearing. They are located at 43 North Morgan Street, Waynesburg, PA 15370.


The legal aid office located at 218 North Kimberly A venue, Suite 10 I, 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.

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.
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