Note: Any person in an emergency situation requiring immediate intervention should call 911 for assistance.
Victims of domestic violence can get protection orders under a law called the Protection from Abuse Act. What is it? A protection from abuse order (PFA) is a piece of paper a judge signs stating the terms someone must follow or else risk legal consequences. You can seek a PFA stemming from a family law or criminal domestic violence case. In Pennsylvania, it can be a temporary restraining order or a longer, final protection order.
How Can a PFA Help Me?
A PFA Order can do the following:
- Direct an abuser not to abuse, threaten, harass or stalk you
- Evict or exclude the abuser from your residence
- Prohibit the abuser from contacting you
- Grant you temporary custody of your minor children
- Grant you temporary child or spousal support
- Prohibit the abuser from having any guns or gun permits
- Direct the abuser to attend a batterer's counseling program (depending on jurisdiction)
- Direct the abuser to reimburse you for reasonable out-of-pocket expenses you incurred as a result of the abuse
- Ask the judge to grant any other relief deemed just and appropriate.
How Can I Get Protection?
To get a PFA, the abused person must file a petition in the Court of Common Pleas Family Division. Each county has its own filing procedure. Most Family Divisions have a system allowing you to file pro se (on your own), or through your attorney or local legal services office.
What Happens After I File a Petition?
After filing a petition, a judge will review the case to determine if a temporary protection order (TPO) should be granted. The judge’s decision at the TPO hearing is based only on one person’s statement -- the person who is claiming to be abused. If the judge believes that abuse has occurred, he/she will issue a TPO and schedule a final order hearing that should be held within 10 days.
A final protection order (FPO) can be granted in two ways, either after a hearing or by an agreement between both parties. If there is a FPO hearing, both the person claiming to be abused and the alleged abuser are given a chance to tell the judge his or her side of the case and provide evidence. The judge can grant the FPO, or deny the FPO request and dismiss the protection order case.
The following table highlights the main provisions of Pennsylvania's restraining order laws. See Harassment, Restraining Orders, and Filing a Domestic Violence Lawsuit for more information.
||Protection from Abuse (PFA) Act
|Who Can Ask for a PFA?
Anyone who is being abused by:
- A spouse or former spouse
- A current or former sexual or intimate partner
- A parent or child
- A person related by blood or marriage.
|Type of Orders
Temporary Protection Orders (TPO) and Final Protection Order (FPO)
|Length of TPO
Expires after ten (10) days unless extended
|Length of a FPO
FPO is up to (3) years from the date of issuance
|How to Apply
File a petition in court or at the request of the district attorney, or a law enforcement officer in connection with a criminal case.
|Penalty for Violations
Any violation of a PFA order can result in criminal contempt charges, which may result in up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Because domestic laws can sometimes get complicated, it may also be a good idea to consult an experienced Pennsylvania domestic violence lawyer or an legal aid service provider if you have questions about your specific situation.
Have Legal Questions About Temporary Restraining Orders? Talk to an Attorney
There are countless reasons why a judge would issue a restraining order, but domestic violence is probably the most common. In any event, it's important to understand the law when confronted with a restraining order, whether you're the one being protected or the party being restrained. Learn more about your case and legal options by speaking with a Pennsylvania criminal attorney today.