Fear in the Family
o one should have to live in fear, especially in their own home. For this reason, the law takes domestic violence very seriously. To protect individuals from violence that occurs within the family or household, the Pennsylvania legislature enacted The Protection From Abuse (PFA) Act. This act provides a mechanism for victims of domestic violence to obtain an order that prevents the abuser from contacting them or committing any further abuse.
When people think of domestic violence, they tend to think only of abuse committed against a spouse. However, Pennsylvania’s definition of domestic violence includes a much broader range of actions and covers more than just spouses. A Protection From Abuse petition can be filed against a spouse, current or former intimate partner, anyone related by blood or marriage, household members, or someone with whom you have a child. A PFA can also be filed by a parent on behalf of their child to protect the child from abuse as well.
In addition, abuse does not only mean actual physical violence, though that is certainly grounds for issuing a PFA. A person can also obtain a PFA if the defendant only attempted to cause bodily injury, or if the defendant placed the person in reasonable fear of imminent bodily injury by the defendant. Thus, a PFA can be entered against someone for repeatedly following you in a public place, communicating with you in an unwanted and harassing manner, and/or for restraining you against your will. Sexual assault also falls within the definition of domestic violence, even if the parties are married.
Generally there are two steps to the PFA process. Upon filing of a petition by a victim of abuse, the court will issue a Temporary PFA Order, which lasts until a hearing can be held. The temporary PFA is usually issued “ex parte,” meaning that the defendant is not present and does not have a chance to respond prior to entry of the temporary order. A hearing on the Final PFA is generally held within 10 days of the initial PFA being issued. At this hearing, the person seeking the PFA must prove why a Final PFA Order should be issued and the Defendant has an opportunity to be present and respond. After the hearing, the court can issue a final PFA Order, which can last up to 3 years.
If you are married or have children, PFA proceedings can affect related divorce, child custody, and support matters. Potential consequences of a PFA can include being evicted from your home, loss of custody of your children, and entry of an order for child support. As a result, it is unfortunately not uncommon for people to make false claims of domestic abuse in order to gain an advantage in child custody proceedings. That is why it is important to hire a lawyer with experience in both criminal defense and family law matters. The attorneys at Masorti Law Group focus solely on criminal defense and family law and, therefore, have a deep understanding of the intersection of these two practice areas.
While it is possible to agree to have a PFA entered against you without admitting fault, it is never a good idea to simply consent to a PFA just to get it over with. After a careful review of the facts and circumstances of your case, an experienced attorney may be able to have the PFA dismissed entirely. This scenario is often ideal because the consequences of even being accused of domestic violence can have a drastic impact on your life. These consequences include: a public record on the civil docket that you committed abuse, potential admissibility in a future criminal case, and most importantly, a violation of a PFA can result in criminal penalties of up to six months imprisonment and a fine up to $1,000.
As you can see, the stakes are very high in PFA proceedings. The attorneys at Masorti Law Group have extensive experience on both sides, having assisted clients in obtaining PFA Orders as well as defending against false accusations of domestic abuse. This breadth of experience gives us the upper hand in protecting you and your rights in these proceedings. If you are experiencing abuse or are accused of abusing your spouse, child, or other loved one, the dedicated attorneys at Masorti Law Group can help. Contact Us Now for a free consultation.