Under Pennsylvania Law, domestic violence victims can seek a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order if they can prove their spouse or partner is abusing them or their children. A protection order is a legal document issued by a court which prohibits an individual from engaging in certain behaviors, such as physical violence, harassment, or simply contacting the other person. As PFAs are strictly enforced, representation by an experienced Pennsylvania family law attorney is essential.
The family law attorneys at Schwartz, Fox and Saltzman have over 40+ years helping individuals in Pennsylvania navigate difficult matters concerning divorce, child custody, and child support.
This article outlines actions which are considered violations of a PFA in Pennsylvania and the consequences of doing so.
Actions That Count as a Violation of a PFA in Pennsylvania
PFA orders frequently include terms which prohibit the defendant from taking certain actions or behaviors. Often, these actions involve harassing the plaintiff or attempting to contact them at all.
Certain orders may be “stay away” orders and certain may be orders where a party is evicted from a home. If you are unsure as to what your order says, it is best to contact a lawyer. However, some actions which may be considered a violation of a Protection From Abuse order include:
- Contacting or attempting to contact the plaintiff
- Committing acts of domestic violence against the plaintiff
- Threatening, harassing, stalking the plaintiff, or placing the plaintiff in reasonable fear of violence
- Entering the plaintiff’s home or place of employment
- Possessing firearms
As protection from abuse orders are strictly enforced, engaging in prohibited conduct may constitute a violation. Sending an innocent email or text message will serve as a PFA violation if the order explicitly prohibits the defendant from contacting or attempting to contact the plaintiff.
Talking with a family law attorney may help you identify what you need included in a PFA order. Their experience means you’ll better lay out what you need to keep yourself and your family safe.
What Happens When Someone Violates a PFA
If the defendant violates a PFA order, the plaintiff can contact the police and report the violation. The police will investigate and may bring criminal charges against the defendant if they find evidence of a PFA violation. The defendant will then have to appear at a contempt hearing in front of the judge who issued the protection order.
PFA Violation Penalties
There is no law which directly criminalizes violating a PFA order. This is because violating a PFA order is treated as a form of indirect criminal contempt, i.e., disobeying a court order as opposed to disobeying a written statute. Under Pennsylvania Law, the criminal penalties for indirect criminal contempt can be:
- Up to six months in jail and a fine ranging from $300.00 to $1,000.00.
- Up to six months of supervised probation and a fine ranging from $300.00 to $1,000.00.
- A criminal conviction.
Other Consequences of PFA Violations in Family Law
A violation of a PFA can have significant collateral consequences in a family law case. For example, if a parent violates a PFA, this may impact their child custody or visitation rights. Additionally, violating a PFA order can result in the court extending the PFA order.
What Happens if the Victim Violates a PFA in Pennsylvania?
In general, nothing. This is because the terms of a PFA are not directed towards or binding on the victim. However, if the victim violates a PFA, it may give the defendant grounds for a defense, e.g., a defendant can argue they only contacted the victim after the victim repeatedly called or texted them to induce them into committing a PFA violation.
What to Do if the Plaintiff Violates a Protection From Abuse Order
You should take all necessary steps to document the facts surrounding the plaintiff’s violation of the protection from abuse order. Specifically, you should preserve evidence such as emails, text messages, phone records, photographs, police reports, medical reports and witness statements which prove the plaintiff is violating the protection from abuse order. You must also refrain from engaging in any conduct that could be classified as a violation.
Summary of Violating a PFA
Violating a protection from abuse order is a serious offense that can lead to criminal charges, arrest, fines, and jail time. Additionally, violating a protection order can negatively impact your family law case. If you have been accused of violating a protection from abuse order, contact the experienced Pennsylvania family law lawyers at Schwartz, Fox & Saltzman to learn how you can use our over 40 years of experience to your benefit.