The Protection from Abuse Act is a civil remedy to provide protection from abuse or the reasonable fear of serious bodily injury between family or household members, sexual or intimate partners or persons who share biological parenthood. A protection from abuse order, commonly known as a PFA can have significant collateral consequences. It can affect your right to possess a firearm, prevent you from exercising custody of your child, remove you from your home, and any violation can lead to criminal charges.
The process begins by a person filing a petition for a protection from abuse order with the Prothonotary’s office. The petitioner will appear before the Judge and explain why he or she needs protection. This first appearance before the Judge is ex-parte, meaning the Judge will only hear from the Petitioner, usually the defendant is unaware of the ex-parte hearing. After reviewing the petition and hearing testimony from the Petitioner, the Judge may order a temporary order. The order could award the petitioner custody of minor children and exclusive possession of the residence. The defendant will be required to relinquish all firearms to the Sheriff’s Office and not contact with the petitioner or protected parties.
A hearing will be scheduled within ten days of the filing of the petition. At the hearing, the defendant has the right to be represented by counsel and the right to present evidence. While the Petitioner has the burden of proof, the burden is preponderance of the evidence which means it is more probable than not that the allegations in the petition are credible. If the petitioner proves the allegations by preponderance of the evidence, the Judge will enter a final protection from abuse order. This order can last up to three years. Any violation of that order could lead to criminal charges.
A PFA can impact child custody matters. A subsequent custody order will supersede any custody provision in a PFA order; however, it can take up to thirty days from filing a custody complaint to appear before the court. You must reveal to the court that a PFA has been issued against you. A PFA can prevent you from receiving spousal support.
While the Protection from Abuse Act is civil, it can significantly affect family law, your constitutional right to possess a firearm, as well as the potential for criminal charges for any minor violation. If you are served with a temporary protection from abuse order and have children, you should consult an attorney who is experienced with defending against PFA orders and has experience in the area of family law.