Protection from Abuse (PFA)

What is a PFA?

A Protection from Abuse case is a court action in Pennsylvania to help prevent abuse by prohibiting or limiting contact between abusers and victims. While the PF A order is a civil order, certain violations of it are criminal offenses. If you think you may be a victim of abuse, the following answers may help you.

How do I get a PFA?

You can appear before a Family Court Judge at your county’s Court of Common Pleas without the abuser present to obtain an emergency, temporary PF A order and a final PF A hearing date within 10 days. Your county court administrator, domestic violence services and legal aid office can help you through this process.  See below for your county’s particular PFA court process.

If your county’s Court of Common Pleas is closed, such as on weekends or evenings, the police can assist you in contacting a Magistrate District Justice for an emergency order that would last until the next business day, in which another temporary order can be obtained from the Common Pleas court.

Who is protected by a PFA?

You can be protected if you are an abuse victim and have one of the following relationships with the abuser:
(1) spouse or ex-spouse;
(2) Current or former intimate partner;
(3) parent;
(4) child;
(5) biological sibling;
(6) and certain others related by blood or marriage.

Abuse victims outside of these relationships are not eligible for a PFA but may be eligible for criminal protection by calling the police or eligible for a PSV or PFI order (see below).

How do courts define "abuse" for PFAs?

Abuse is defined as any of the following: (1) causing or attempting to cause injury or certain sexual offenses; (2) causing reasonable fear of immediate, serious injury; (3) the crime of false imprisonment; (4) physical or sexual abuse of the child(ren) protected, defined by the Child Protective Services Act; or (5) repeatedly following or other acts that place you in reasonable fear of injury.

How does a PFA protect me?

In addition to prohibiting any further abuse, a PFA can prohibit the abuser from having any direct or indirect contact with you. Indirect contact generally includes contacting you by phone, messaging, social media and through third parties. It also can temporarily give you exclusive possession of a home and prohibit the abuser from going to your home, and it can require the abuser to turn over any firearms to the sheriffs department and order the abuser to not obtain any new firearms. Finally, it can give you temporary custody of your children where the court finds that appropriate and, in very limited circumstances, can provide for temporary financial support.

How can I protect my children under the PFA law?

Protection of children under a PF A can occur in 1 of 2 ways: by obtaining temporary custody or listing as a “protected party,” where a court finds it  appropriate; and if the children are victims of abuse, as described above. A parent should file on behalf of his/her children where abuse of those children is claimed.

What can I do if the defendant violates the PFA?

You should contact the police, the District Attorney’s office or the Magisterial District Judge to file a complaint. They will provide the paperwork and, where there is probable cause of a crime, file a criminal complaint against the abuser. Each criminal violation can result in up to 6 months in jail and/or probation
and a $1,000 fine.

Can I violate the PFA?

If you are the petitioner and abuse victim, you cannot criminally violate the PFA’s “no contact” and “no abuse” orders. In other words, the PF A order prohibiting further abuse and any contact only applies to the abuser, not the victim. For your safety, though, it is recommended that you fully enforce the PFA and avoid any contact with the abuser, especially personal contact. You are required to comply with orders related to child custody and return of property to the abuser, though it should be done in a way that you remain
protected.

What is a PSV or PFI order?

A separate but related law can protect victims from Sexual Violence (PSV) or From Intimidation (PFI).  PSV s protect adults or minors who are victims of sexual offenses, and PFIs protect minors from intimidation or harassment by adults. PSV sand PFIs do not require the victim to have the same types of relationships to the abuser that PF As require.
To quality for a PFI order, the victim must be a minor, and the abuser an adult, and they cannot be related in any of the same ways that a PF A would require. For example, a PFI order could be appropriate in a scenario between an employee and employer, or student and teacher.

Should I just file a criminal report instead?

While you are encouraged to file a criminal report where a crime may have occurred, and the criminal court system has its own advantages, there are additional or separate advantages in filing for a PFA, PSV or PFI.  They provide immediate protections and fast resolutions, and they have their own protections designed for abuse victims. Additionally, civil court hearings require only proof that the abuse more likely than not occurred, while criminal trials require a much higher level of proof – beyond a reasonable doubt.

How can legal aid help?

A legal aid attorney will represent any PF A petitioner at the final PF A 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.

What is my county court process?

Fayette County: 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.

Greene County: 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.

Somerset County: 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.

Washington County: 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.

For more online information, go to www.palawhelp.org.