Family Violence and Protection from Abuselegal scale and gavel

A protection from abuse order (P.F.A.) is a civil order that provides protection from harm by a family or household members, sexual or intimate partners or persons who you have a child in common with. When domestic violence occurs or is claimed to have occurred, involved parties face an immediate need to enforce legal rights. Have you or your child been abused by your spouse or partner, or the parent of your child? Have you been accused of family violence and wish to defend yourself against allegations?

A protection from abuse order is a paper that is signed by a judge and tells the abuser to stop the abuse or face serious legal consequences.  It offers civil legal protection from domestic violence to both female and male victims.

Abuse is the occurrence of one or more of the following acts between family or household members.

  1. Attempting to cause or causing (with or without a deadly weapon):
  • Bodily injury
  • Rape
  • Involuntary deviate sexual intercourse (oral sex, anal sex, vaginal or anal penetration with a foreign object performed under force or the threat of force, or while unconscious)*
  • Sexual assault
  • Aggravated indecent assault (vaginal or anal penetration with a finger or other body part under force or threat of force, or while unconscious)**
  • Indecent assault (touching a person’s intimate parts for the purposes of arousal without consent, under force or threat of force, or while the person is unconscious),*** or
  • Incest
  1. Placing another in reasonable fear of immediate serious bodily injury ;
  2. False imprisonment;
  3. Physical or sexual abuse of a child; or
  4. Engaging in a course of conduct or repeatedly committing acts toward another person, including following the person, under circumstances which place the person in reasonable fear of bodily injury. In other words, stalking or harassment that makes you afraid of bodily injury.

In PA, there are a few different types of protection from abuse orders (“PFA”).  The type of PFA you may initially get depends on whether the judge believes you need protection or not.

Emergency order
If you need immediate protection when the courts are closed (such as on a weekend, late night or holiday), you can call your local police department or 911.  They will tell you which magisterial district judge is on-call that night, and provide you with the telephone number where you can reach her or him.  If the judge thinks you are in immediate danger, s/he may grant you an emergency order.*  An emergency order will only last until the next business day.  An emergency order is designed to give you protection until a court opens and you have a chance to ask for an ex parte temporary PFA.  If you do not go to court on the next business day to apply for an ex parte temporary PFA, your emergency order will expire.

Ex parte temporary PFA 
When you ask the court for a PFA, a judge will give you an ex parte temporary PFA if s/he finds that you or your minor children are in danger of further domestic abuse and need immediate protection.  “Ex parte” means that the judge will make this decision based only on the information you provide, without the abuser being in court.  This temporary order will last until your full court hearing for the final PFA where the abuser has an opportunity to testify and present evidence.  A hearing is usually scheduled within 10 business days.  If the abuser has a gun or weapon, be sure to tell this to the judge when applying for your ex parte temporary PFA so that the judge can order the weapon to be immediately turned over to the sheriff.

Final PFA
After a hearing in which you both have an opportunity to tell your side of the story through your testimony, evidence, and witnesses, a judge can grant you a final protection from abuse order (PFA).  A final PFA lasts up to 3 years and can be extended under certain circumstances.

A protection from abuse order can offer the following protections for you and your children. It can:

  • Order the abuser not to abuse, harass, or stalk you, your relatives or your minor children;
  • Order the abuser to be removed from the home where you both live and grant you possession of the home; Note: Under certain circumstances, if you are living in a home of which the abuser is the only owner or tenant, the judge can still remove the abuser from the home or, with your consent, order him to provide you with suitable alternate housing.
  • Award temporary custody or temporary visitation rights of your minor children;
  • Order the abuser to pay financial support (including medical bills, health insurance, rent or mortgage payments) to you or your children;
  • Prohibit the abuser from having any contact with you or minor children, including staying away from your or your child’s place of employment or business or school;
  • Order the abuser to turn any of his/her firearms, other weapons, and ammunition to the sheriff or police, if s/he used them or threatened to use them during the abuse, and prohibit him/her from getting additional firearms;
  • Order the abuser to pay you for reasonable losses resulting from the abuse (this may include the cost of medical/ dental care, relocation and moving expenses, attorney and counseling costs, as well as loss of earnings or support); and
  • Grant any other appropriate relief you request.*

Whether a judge orders any or all of the above depends on the facts of your case.