Protection from Abuse: Litigating and Defending Claims

Authorities in Pennsylvania and the Pittsburgh region have a very important tool at their disposal to fight domestic violence: the Protection From Abuse order

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In addition to criminal laws, Pennsylvania has a quasi-criminal process in place to deal with domestic violence situations. The Protection From Abuse Act can be found at 23 Pa. C.S.A. ยง 6101, et seq. (“PFA Act”).

Who is Covered by the Act?

The abuse that occurs must be between family or household members, sexual or intimate partners, or persons who share biological parenthood. The PFA act is concerned with domestic violence.

What is Abuse?

“Abuse”, as defined in the PFA Act, falls into five (5) categories:

(1) Attempting to cause or intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causing bodily injury, serious bodily injury, rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, sexual assault, statutory sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault, indecent assault or incest with or without a deadly weapon.

(2) Placing another in reasonable fear of imminent serious bodily injury.

(3) Falsely imprisoning someone.  

(4) Physically or sexually abusing minor children.

(5) Knowingly engaging in a course of conduct or repeatedly committing acts toward another person, including following the person, without proper authority, under circumstances which place the person in reasonable fear of bodily injury.

Abuse can be based upon one or multiple occurrences of the foregoing acts.

The Process

The PFA process begins with the filing of a petition with either a Pennsylvania magisterial district judge (emergency orders) or the Prothonotary/Court Clerk in your county. In the petition, the petitioner (the person filing the petition) alleges the time, place, and manner of abuse. The petition is then reviewed by either a magistrate judge (for emergency orders) or the Court of Common Pleas. If there are sufficient ground to grant a temporary PFA, the court will issue a temporary order barring contact between the parties and ordering the defendant to surrender firearms to the Sheriff. The order may even grant sole possession of the residence to the petitioner. 

Once a temporary PFA is granted, the court has ten (10) days to set a hearing at which time evidence will be presented by both parties for or against the PFA. If, at the hearing, the petition is granted, a permanent PFA is put into place for a set amount of time barring contact between the parties.

Emergency PFAs

An emergency PFA is a PFA granted by the magistrate. These are usually granted on weekends or court holidays when the Court of Common Pleas is closed. If an emergency PFA is granted, the petitioner has until the end of the next business day of the Court of Common Pleas to file a petition for a temporary PFA. 

So there you have it. This is the basic run down of PFAs in Pennsylvania. A failure of the defendant to abide by the terms of an emergency, temporary or permanent PFA will result in indirect criminal contempt (ICC). A hearing will be set and the defendant may end up in jail. PFAs can also be used to protect children, granting temporary custody to one party. 

If you have any questions about filing a PFA in Pennsylvania, don’t hestitate to reach out to the Pittsburgh family attorneys at Dodaro, Matta, & Cambest, P.C. at 412-243-1600.

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