Obtaining and Enforcing Protection from Abuse Orders

Domestic violence is a serious matter and the family law attorneys at Strassburger McKenna Gutnick & Gefsky are committed to helping our clients escape these situations and obtain the protections available to them under the law or rigorously advocate for those who have had a protection from abuse proceeding filed against them.

In Pennsylvania, domestic violence is defined as attempting to cause or causing bodily injury, rape, involuntary sexual intercourse, sexual assault, or incest between family or household members. All of these circumstances can lead to criminal charges being filed, but a civil order for protection or PFA can be secured upon a clear demonstration of abuse. Abuse is defined by Pennsylvania’s Protection from Abuse Act as physical or sexual abuse, causing a person bodily harm either intentionally or recklessly; false imprisonment; putting a person in fear of imminent bodily injury; and stalking. A PFA can be sought to protect against the abuse of a family or household member (including a spouse, ex-spouse, sibling, parent, relative by blood or marriage, or a child), sexual or intimate partner (including same sex), or a person with which they have a child in common. We assist clients through the circumstances as they are happening or shortly thereafter by navigating them through the process. A person in need should immediately contact the police. The victim must seek a PFA close in time to any abuse in order to obtain the protections afforded he or she under the law. Pennsylvania law allows for several different types of protection from abuse orders (PFA) – emergency PFA orders, temporary PFA orders, and final PFA orders.

Emergency PFA

Emergency PFA orders are granted when immediate protection is needed but the courts are closed, including weekends, holidays, and evenings. These are initiated by victims with the help of their local police who will contact an “on-call” judge and if that judge determines that protection is warranted, the judge may grant the victim a temporary emergency PFA order that will prevent the alleged abuser from contacting or physically approaching the victim, and that may include excluding an abuser from the house if the alleged abuser and the victim live in the same home. This order will remain in effect until the next business day when the victim may go to the court and file for a temporary PFA order.

Temporary PFA

A temporary PFA order is secured by the victim going to their local court and following an intake process where they are assisted by court personnel. These orders are entered based on information provided by one party without the accused abuser’s testimony or input being heard by the court. If the court finds there to be abuse as defined by law, then a temporary protection order will be entered and will last until a final hearing. Temporary orders not only prevent the alleged abuser from contacting or approaching the victim but can also require the removal of weapons from the abuser’s possession, establish an interim child custody schedule, establish an interim child and/or spousal support order, and award temporary possession of a shared home to the victim.

Conversely, the accused may not be aware that a protection proceeding has been filed against him or her until receipt of an emergency or temporary PFA, which is served by a police officer or constable. This order may immediately exclude the accused from the home, preclude custody, or confiscate weapons. The accused must act quickly to engage an attorney in order to prepare for a final hearing, which will occur within the following week to 10 days. Furthermore, the attorney can act in the interim to assist in securing clothing and personal items, and/or arrange for custody prior to the hearing.

Final PFA

A final PFA may be granted after a hearing where both the victim and the accused present their sides of the story to the court and a judge decides whether there was abuse and that further protection is necessary. A final order may extend for any period of time up to 3 years with possible extensions if the judge believes there is a continuing risk of harm where the abuser has violated the original order. These orders are very powerful because they may temporarily address custody, spousal and child support, and possession of a shared home. These orders may also require the confiscation of weapons, which is particular problematic for those who use firearms to work in law enforcement. It is important to recognize that these orders will surface on background checks done by current or potential employers and may impact employability. Having a final PFA order appear during a background will also prevent the purchase of a firearm during the term of the order and even after its expiration. Entry of a final PFA order should not be taken lightly due to the serious consequences that may arise.

At Strassburger McKenna Gutnick & Gefsky, our attorneys are committed to the well being of our clients. Contact Reid B Roberts at rroberts@smgglaw.com today to schedule an appointment.