Protection from Abuse Actions
Domestic violence is a serious matter and the family law attorneys at Bunde & Roberts 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, a protection from abuse order, (PFA), may be entered if there has been actual or threatened physical abuse by a spouse, family or household member and/or current or former sexual or intimate partners. Pennsylvania’s Protection from Abuse Act defines abuse 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. It is important that a victim seek a PFA close in time to any abuse in order to obtain the full protections afforded to them under the law.
A PFA proceeding should not be taken lightly as the consequences can be enormous, including criminal sanctions which may lead to incarceration. If you are the accused in a PFA action, it is imperative that you act quickly to engage an attorney to defend against it.
Here at Bunde & Roberts 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. 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 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. If that judge determines that protection is warranted, the judge will grant the victim a temporary emergency PFA order that will prevent the alleged abuser from contacting or physically approaching the victim, and may exclude the abuser from the house if the victim and abuser live together. The emergency PFA order remains in effect until the next business day when the victim may go to the court and file for a temporary PFA order.
A temporary PFA order is obtained by the victim going to their local court and following an intake process where they are assisted by court personnel. Temporary PFA orders are entered based upon 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 PFA 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.
The accused may not be aware that a protection proceeding has been filed against him or her until receipt of the emergency or temporary PFA, which is served by a police officer or constable. The order may immediately exclude the accused from the home, preclude custody of children, 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. Once engaged, the attorney can assist the accused to secure clothing and personal items, and arrange for custody prior to the final hearing.
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 PFA order may extend for any period of time up to 3 years. The Order may be extended if the judge believes there is a continuing risk of harm where the abuser has violated the original order. PFA orders are very powerful because they may temporarily address custody, spousal and child support, and possession of a shared home. These orders may further require the confiscation of weapons, which is particularly problematic for those who use firearms to work in law enforcement.
It is important to recognize that PFA 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, including criminal sanctions, which may lead to incarceration.