Domestic violence and protection from abuse orders in Pennsylvania

If you are the subject of domestic abuse, sexual assault or domestic violence charges in Pennsylvania, it's helpful to understand the implications of these charges, the protection from abuse order process and how PFAs function.

In general, a protection from abuse order is a legal document signed by a judge that tells an accused abuser to cease alleged abuse or face serious legal consequences. A PFA can be taken out against both men and women. In Pennsylvania, a protection from abuse order can be the result of a civil action or criminal charges or both. In a civil domestic violence action, the person who requests the order for protection asks the court for protection from the person who is the subject of the order and does not involve criminal charges and therefore the penalty of jail time. However, if the person who is the subject of the order violates the order, he or she may be sent to jail for the violation. In comparison, in a criminal case where harassment or assault is alleged against the defendant, the prosecuting attorney has the discretion to seek a protection order against the defendant on behalf of the alleged victim.

In Pennsylvania there are certain people a civil protection order can be taken out against according to 23 Pa. C.S.A. S 6102(a). A person age 18 or older or an emancipated minor may seek legal protection from alleged acts of domestic abuse committed by a spouse, a person who shares space with the applicant like a spouse, a brother or sister, a parent or child, a family member related by blood or marriage, a current or former sexual partner and a person with whom the applicant shares a child.

Types of protection orders in Pennsylvania

There are three different types of protection from abuse orders that have varying lengths of enforcement time in Pennsylvania. If a person feels he or she is under the immediate threat of danger, the person can call 911 and dispatchers will provide the number of the magisterial district judge who is on call. If the judge determines that the person is in immediate danger, she or he may grant an emergency order that lasts until the next business day when an ex parte temporary protection from abuse order may be requested.

An ex parte temporary PFA is a temporary order that lasts until a full court hearing is held where the alleged abuser has the opportunity to testify and present evidence. An ex parte temporary order is usually first sought in situations where there is not a direct emergency. A judge will grant an ex parte temporary protection order if she or he determines that the applicant or the applicant's minor children are in danger of future domestic abuse and require immediate protection. The term "ex parte" means the judge makes the decision to grant an order of protection based only on the applicant's information. A hearing is normally scheduled within 10 days of the ex parte order where the final protection order will be determined.

It is during the hearing for the final protection order that the person who is the subject of the order may finally present his or her side of the story, evidence and witnesses. If a judge grants a final protection order, the order can last up to three years.

A person who a protection order is taken out against should also know the meaning of its enforcement. A protection order can

  • Require the alleged abuser not to harass, abuse, or stalk the person who requested the order
  • Order the alleged abuser to leave a shared housing situation
  • Award temporary child custody or temporary visitation right
  • Order the alleged abuser to pay financial support
  • Prohibit the subject of the order from having contact with shared children
  • Require the subject of the order to turn in any firearms or weapons
  • Order the alleged abuser to pay for any losses suffered by the party who requested the order
  • Grant any other relief deemed necessary

Whether criminal or civil, protection from abuse orders can often be one-sided, therefore it's important that an individual who is the subject of a protection from abuse order contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. A criminal defense attorney can help an individual best present his or her side of the story and protect the individual's legal rights.