What Does a Protection From Abuse Order Cover?

woman with raised hands, protecting herself concept.

Being a victim of domestic abuse can be a frightening, upsetting, and emotionally overwhelming experience. It’s critical to be aware of the legal protections that are available to ensure you and your children are safe. In Pennsylvania, the law provides specific safeguards for victims of physical — and sometimes verbal — abuse to help keep the aggressor away from them. Specifically, a Protection From Abuse (PFA) Order may be obtained that prohibits any further contact between the abuser and the victim.

What is a Protection From Abuse Order?

A PFA is a court order issued by a judge to provide relief from someone who is subjecting a victim to abuse. These orders may be given in cases where a victim can prove physical abuse took place. Anyone over the age of 18, or younger with the approval of a guardian, may request a PFA to protect them from a current or former spouse, a romantic partner, or an individual related by blood or marriage. Importantly, PFAs are not available for protection against a stranger, co-worker, roommate, or another individual who is not closely related.

Actions that a court may consider in determining whether a PFA should be awarded can include infliction of false imprisonment, punching, kicking, shoving, rape, sexual abuse, and other violent physical acts. In some instances, verbal abuse may also qualify for a protective order. For example, a judge may grant a PFA if the verbal abuse places the victim in reasonable fear of bodily injury. However, words alone are not sufficient to obtain a PFA — the court will want the victim to establish the context in which the words were used and hear evidence regarding the abuser’s history of violence.

What Does a Protection From Abuse Order Cover?

Once a PFA is ordered, whether it is temporary or final, the abuser must adhere to the restrictions set forth in it — otherwise they will be in violation of the law and can be arrested. If the abuser disregards the PFA, it’s crucial to contact your local police or call 911. Under the protections of a PFA, the abuser will not be permitted to:

  • Contact you or your children
  • Visit your work, school, or residence
  • Harass you or your children
  • Follow, harm, or threaten you or your children
  • Purchase or receive firearms

A PFA order might also give the victim temporary child custody and require the aggressor to return property, pets, or certain items to the victim. Additionally, it can require that the abuser leave the household (even if the abuser is on the deed or lease) or make the victim’s new address confidential.

What Are the Different Types of Protection From Abuse Orders?

There are three types of PFAs available to abuse victims in Pennsylvania. The type of order that is granted will depend upon whether the judge believes protection is needed. A PFA can be an ex parte temporary PFA which is obtained by filing a petition in the Court of Common Pleas during regular business hours and speaking with the judge. If the judge approves the petition, they will issue a temporary order that lasts until a court hearing where both parties can present their arguments — the hearing must be held within 10 days.

If the abuse occurs outside of the court's regular business hours, a victim may be granted a temporary emergency order if they call 911. In such cases, a local District Court Judge will hear the matter and issue the PFA if they deem you and your children are in imminent danger. The order will expire at 5 p.m. on the next day the Court of Common Pleas is open. If you would like the protections of the PFA to be extended further, you must go to the courthouse and petition for an ex parte temporary PFA.

The third type of PFA is referred to as a “Final PFA.” The court will listen to the testimony of both parties and any witnesses, assess police reports, and weigh any other evidence to determine whether a final order is appropriate. If it is approved, it may last for a period of up to three years with the option to extend it for additional time if necessary.

Contact an Experienced Pennsylvania Family Law Attorney

If you are facing domestic violence or physical abuse from your spouse, partner, or a family member, it’s vital to obtain the Protection From Abuse Order you need. At Berman & Associates, we are dedicated to providing compassionate counsel and knowledgeable representation for a wide variety of family law matters — including securing PFAs. Contact us today to schedule a consultation at our Media office.

Categories: Divorce, Family Law