What is a PFA or Protection From Abuse Order in Family Law?

Schwartz, Fox & Saltzman, LLC. – Philadelphia Divorce Lawyers

In the state of Pennsylvania a judge may grant a Protection From Abuse (PFA) order to safeguard an individual who is at risk of being physically or sexually abused. If you believe you need a PFA filed on your behalf, the Pennsylvania family law attorneys at SFS Attorneys can help you get the abuse protection you need and in filing your petition. 

This guide from SFS Attorneys explains what a PFA order is, an overview of the PFA process, and how it works under Pennsylvania family law.

What is a PFA?

A Protection From Abuse order is a type of restraining order established to protect victims of domestic violence. PFAs are granted by Pennsylvania judges to protect individuals from further abuse or if they have a reasonable fear abuse may occur. You can get a PFA if someone in your family, an intimate partner or someone with whom you share children has, is continuing to, or is trying to harm or abuse you or a minor child. Abuse includes physical or sexual abuse, preventing you from going somewhere, making you feel afraid of getting hurt, stalking you, or threatening you with imminent serious bodily harm.

Protections a PFA May Offer

A PFA limits the contact an abusive person can have with you for instances such as fear of imminent serious bodily injury, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, or sexual assault among others. Such limits may include prohibiting the abuser from coming to your home, school, or place of work, evicting the abuser from your home, and giving you temporary sole custody of minor children. A PFA may also order the alleged abuser to give up any weapons or firearms in their possession and to pay financial support to you and your minor children.

Who May File for a PFA Order

A victim of abuse may file a PFA against a family member, intimate partner, or other adult household member with a petition to the court. Common victims who may file for a PFA in Pennsylvania include:

  • Spouse
  • Ex spouse
  • Domestic partner
  • Same-sex partner
  • Parents
  • Children
  • Current or former sexual or intimate partners
  • Relations by blood

Types of Protection From Abuse Orders

In Pennsylvania there are several different types of PFA orders that can be granted.

If you are in immediate need of protection and the courts are closed, you can call 911 and get connected with the magisterial district judge on-call to obtain a temporary protection order. If the judge believes you or your minor children are in immediate danger, they will grant you an emergency order of protection lasting for 24 hours. You will then need to apply for an ex parte PFA on the next business day.

If you apply for PFA on a day court is in session, and if the judge believes you or your minor children need protection, an ex parte temporary PFA will be put in place. Ex parte simply means the defendant, your abuser, neither receives notification prior to the judge ordering the temporary PFA, nor be present in court. The temporary order is usually valid for as long as it takes for you to have a full hearing for a final PFA. This court hearing should be scheduled within 10 business days of your receiving the ex parte temporary PFA.

At your final hearing, both you and your abuser will be present and allowed to testify, present evidence, and provide witness testimony. If the judge feels it is warranted, they will issue a final PFA order which can last for up to 3 years, and can even get extended beyond the initial 3 years if necessary. 

Length of a PFA

An emergency order of protection lasts for 24 hours. An ex parte temporary PFA order usually lasts until a final PFA hearing is scheduled. It is required the final PFA hearing be scheduled within 10 days of receiving the ex parte temporary PFA. However, at the first court listing, it can be continued for a number of reasons. A final order can last for up to three years or beyond if extended. 

What Happens if an Abuser Violates a PFA

If your abuser violates the PFA order, you should call the police and report the violation immediately. You may be directed to file a criminal complaint and an arrest warrant may be issued for the abuser. A contempt hearing will get scheduled to take place in front of a judge who, if they find the abuser violated the PFA, can sentence the abuser to jail and/or fine them.

If your abuser is jailed, be sure to request you get notified upon their release.

Does a PFA Appear on a Background Check?

Since PFAs are a civil matter, they do not show up on a criminal background check. 

How Does a PFA Affect Child Custody

A PFA court order can temporarily alter a child custody schedule if the parties to the PFA are the parents of a child who is currently subject to a child custody order. Any PFA-associated changes to a child custody order are not permanent.

Talk with a Family Law Attorney

If you are a victim of spousal abuse or your minor children need protection, our legal team is here to help you. We have decades of experience in complex family law cases and are ready to assist you. Call us today for a free consultation

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