Pennsylvania Protection From Abuse Order Lawyer
Experienced Central Pennsylvania legal counsel for PFA orders/restraining orders
When family disputes escalate, your spouse or someone in your household may seek a protection from abuse (PFA) order – also known as a restraining order. A PFA order can affect your relationships with your spouse and your children. You may be ordered to leave your home. You may have limited time to collect your belongings. A PFA can affect your reputation.
At Statt Law, our protection from abuse lawyers fight for your rights. In some cases, we directly contest the need for a PFA. In other cases, we negotiate agreements to scale down the dispute and focus on anger management and other causes of the marital conflict.
How does the PFA process work in Pennsylvania?
A few key PFA factors include the following:
Who can file a temporary or final PFA. A request for a PFA can be filed by anyone who lives in your household – such as a spouse, a child, a mother-in-law, an aunt, or a grandparent. Victims include, according to the Pennsylvania Protection from Abuse law – “A person who is physically or sexually abused by a family or household member.” Abuse can include an assault, and attempted assault, stalking, rape or sexual assault, and other types of physical abuse of the accuser or children.
The request for a temporary order. A spouse or complainant will normally file a request for a temporary restraining order. This is an ex-parte proceeding which means the accused is not present. The accuser, the lawyer for the accused, and other witnesses such as the police may be present. The person claiming abuse will then seek to have the local county judge issue a temporary PFA. The judge will likely grant the request for a temporary PFA if the judge believes the accuser and/or minor children are in immediate danger.
The setting of a hearing date for a final PFA. The judge should set a date for a full-hearing within 5-10 days. You will need to appear at that hearing to assert your rights. You shouldn’t attend the hearing on your own because your rights will be decided at that hearing. The best step if you are served with a temporary restraining order is to comply with the order – and make an appointment with an experienced PFA attorney. You should also contact a lawyer immediately if the accuser files a request for a PFA without a temporary order request.
The standard of proof in a PFA hearing. The hearing to determine whether a final PFA order should be granted is not a criminal hearing. The accuser doesn’t need to prove you committed abuse beyond a reasonable doubt. In most cases, the hearing is based on the testimony of the accuser and your testimony. The accuser needs to prove his/her claim by a preponderance of the evidence – essentially that the accuser’s testimony is more likely true than false.
The PFA hearing. In some cases, there may be a witness. If the accuser sought medical help at an emergency room or with a family doctor, the report of that healthcare provider may be reviewed by the judge. While there are often legitimate reasons for filing a PFA request, there are also times when the accuser’s complaint lacks credibility – because they are seeking to gain an advantage in a custody dispute or a divorce.
You need to be very careful. If you fail to comply with a temporary or a final PFA, you can be arrested. You may face criminal charges and the possibility of imprisonment and large fines.
What rights can you lose if a PFA is entered?
The judge can order any or all of the following:
- A direction that you refrain from abusing the plaintiff or minor children
- Give the accuser possession of the home and evict you from the home – even if the home is jointly owned or there is a joint lease.
- Award temporary custody of the children to the accuser subject to visitation rights – unless the complaint alleges abuse of the children. If the accuser claims child abuse, you may be limited to supervised visitation with your children.
- Prohibit you from having any contact with the accuser or minor children – including the accuser’s place of work, any schools, or the relatives of the accuser.
- Prohibit you from keeping or buying any firearms.
- Direct you to pay for any medical bills, the cost of relocation, counseling expense, lost earnings, the value of any damaged property, and attorney’s fees.
- Order that you lose other rights as set forth in the Protection from Abuse laws.
The PFA may also appear on a background check which can make it difficult to obtain a job or find a place to live.
In short; your life, your liberty, your reputation, and your relationships will all be in jeopardy if you fail to reach a consent decree or your fail to convince the judge that the accuser’s claim lacks merit.
What is a consent agreement?
A consent agreement is an agreement by you and the accuser that resolves the accusers’ complaint in a more friendly way – often with less severe consequences. The judge must approve the consent agreement.
For starters, a consent agreement means that the judge didn’t specifically determine that there was abuse – which helps your reputation and helps when employers or others run a background check.
In many relationships, the best resolution is to admit there are problems in the marriage or relationship and address those problems so the marriage or relationship can get back on track – instead of dissolving. Often, family disputes are based on alcohol or drug abuse, financial difficulties, or other problems that can be managed with counseling and treatment.
A consent agreement normally requires that you complete some type of counseling/treatment program. The agreement may (or may not) require that you live apart while you complete the program.
At Statt Law, we understand that some domestic abuse cases are just excuses for a spouse to try to gain an advantage over the other spouse. We also understand that when abuse occurs, the abuse needs to be addressed. We defend your rights while keeping in mind that there may be alternatives to a final PFA. To speak with an experienced trial lawyer, call us at: (717) 537-0928 or complete our contact form to schedule an appointment.
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