Article by Aleksandra Kocelko, Esq.
Since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, there has been an increase in instances of domestic violence. As people are confined to their homes, dealing with the stress of job loss or other financial issues, or the isolation of the pandemic, there has been an increase in Protection from Abuse action (PFA) in Pennsylvania.
Who can file a PFA?
In Pennsylvania, you can’t file a PFA against just anyone. There are only certain relationships that would allow you to file a PFA against another person. For example, if your neighbor were to physically assault you, while that might be considered abuse as we’ll explain below, you don’t meet the relationship requirement. Examples of people you could file a PFA against include current or former intimate partners, spouses or former spouses, and people related by blood or marriage. Parents may also file on behalf of their minor children.
What constitutes abuse?
One of the biggest misconceptions about a PFA is there must be actual physical violence before someone can file for a PFA. The law in Pennsylvania provides a number of examples of abuse, but not all of them require physical abuse. For example, putting someone in fear of imminent serious bodily injury is considered abuse. Additionally, a course of conduct that places someone in fear of injury would also qualify. Of course, causing bodily injury would also constitute abuse. Other examples include false imprisonment or sexual assault.
It is also important to know that there is not a requirement that the alleged perpetrator be criminally charged nor are you required to have medical records or testimony. Oftentimes, in a PFA matter, the only evidence is the testimony of the petitioner. If you have evidence in support of your claim, that can be beneficial.
What happens when someone files a PFA?
The procedures for filing for a PFA may vary slightly between counties in Pennsylvania, but generally, the first step would be petitioning the court for a PFA Order. At this first step, the petitioner would appear in court, complete a petition and explain to the judge what led to the filing. If the testimony provided would meet the requirements of the PFA Statute, then usually a temporary PFA is granted. This temporary PFA would remain in effect pending a final hearing, which is usually scheduled within 10 business days. At the final hearing, the defendant would be entitled to respond to the allegations and make their own case and then a judge would decide if a final PFA should be entered. A final PFA could be entered for up to three years, depending on the circumstances. Both temporary and final PFA orders can contain provisions excluding the defendant from a residence, barring them from the petitioner’s work or school, providing temporary custody of minor children, or other relief that might be appropriate.
While PFAs are handled under the civil or family court umbrella, violations of a PFA can have criminal consequences so these matters are very serious. It is important to understand the statute and process regardless of your side of the case.
The family law attorneys at Burns White are well-versed in PFA laws and procedures and we routinely represent both victims and defendants in PFA matters. If you have any questions about this process, contact our attorneys for a free consultation.