How Does a Restraining Order Affect Child Custody?

restraining order

Conflict between spouses or co-parents always puts a strain on children. When it rises to the level of protection orders and claims of domestic violence, it can interfere with a parent’s connection to his or her children, creating extra hurdles to exercising visitation. Find out how a restraining order affects child custody, and what you can do if you find yourself facing those obstacles.

Filing a Restraining Order in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania’s Protection from Abuse Orders (PFA orders) are designed to shield the victims of domestic violence from further abuse by a family or household member. They can be a powerful tool in helping survivors remove themselves and their children from dangerous situations, and giving police the authority to intervene and prevent further injury.

However, filing a petition for a civil restraining order doesn’t require proof of any physical injury. Individuals can get restraining orders entered based on claims that someone in their family or household caused, or even attempted to cause:

  • Bodily injury
  • Rape or sexual assault
  • Incest
  • Created reasonable fear of immediate serious bodily injury
  • False imprisonment (kidnapping)
  • Child abuse
  • Stalking

An emergency ex-parte restraining order can be entered before you have notice or an opportunity to defend yourself against the claims against you. Unfortunately, this means that sometimes spouses use restraining orders to gain an advantage in a divorce or child custody case. If a PFA order is entered against you, you will be given a hearing to dispute the claims. However, in the meantime, the restraining order may already be affecting your child custody and visitation rights.

How Does a Restraining Order Affect Child Custody?

Often, the temporary protection orders entered prior to the hearing will not account for time with your children. There is an assumption that the danger of continued abuse is too great to allow any form of contact, even to allow a parent to see their children. This is true even if the petition was based solely on threats to your spouse or co-parent, and not the children themselves. PFA orders can:

  • Prevent you from going to your shared home
  • Prohibit contact with your spouse, former partner, or children
  • Require you to leave public spaces when a protected individual is present
  • Keep you from seeing your children at school events
  • Cut off telephone or digital communication with your children
  • Require you to temporarily surrender your firearms or weapons

As a result, if a PFA order includes your children as protected individuals, it can interrupt your parent-child relationship and interfere with your efforts to get child custody.

What to Do When Protection from Abuse Orders and Child Custody Schedules Conflict

An emergency or ex-parte protection from abuse order is top priority among family law orders. Violating the terms of a restraining order can result in criminal consequences, including jail time. They must be taken seriously. Even if you have a custody order as part of a previous divorce or child custody case, you will need to obey the limits on contact and communication included in your restraining order.

If your spouse can show that you did not respect the court’s restraining order, he or she can use it against you in your later divorce or child custody trial, showing that placing the children with you is not what is best for your children. It is better to honor the temporary order and take the matter to court than to face the consequences of violating it.

Visitation Schedules Under a Permanent Restraining Order

Shortly after the court issues a temporary restraining order, you and your spouse or partner will need to appear for a formal hearing on the petition. If you believe the protective order was entered based on false or exaggerated claims, you should be prepared to present testimony and evidence to keep your spouse from proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the claims of abuse are true. In addition to the restrictions listed above, a permanent restraining order can:

  • Establish temporary child custody while your divorce or family law case is pending
  • Create a visitation schedule with conditions and limitations designed to protect the person filing it from further abuse
  • Order you to pay temporary support until the court can determine child support or alimony in your family law case
  • Require you to pay for losses related to the alleged abuse, including attorney fees

The custody and visitation decisions made at the PFA hearing will likely follow you into your later divorce or child custody case. If that case is still pending, the same conditions and child custody schedules may be incorporated into your final judgment. If the petition is filed post-judgment, the fact that it was granted may give your ex-spouse grounds to ask the court to modify your existing child custody order.

What to Do if a Restraining Order is Keeping You from Your Children

The claims behind a restraining order are serious for everyone involved: the alleged abuser, the survivor, and especially their children. If you have been served with a temporary PFA order, now is the time to make your case, before the restraining order can have long term effects on your child custody.

You should not try to do this alone. You have a right to an attorney at the PFA hearing, and you should take advantage of that right. If a permanent restraining order is entered against you, it could impact your child custody, support, and visitation rights for years to come.

At Berman & Associates, our experienced family law attorneys handle both sides of Pennsylvania Protection from Abuse cases. We can help you obtain an order if you are the victim of abuse. If you have been wrongfully accused, or are worried about the long-term effects of a restraining order, we can represent you at the PFA hearing, and in your family law case to make sure your visitation rights are preserved. We welcome you to contact us to speak with us about how we can help with your restraining order and child custody case.

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