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What is a PFA Order, and How Do I Get One?


10/21/2019

Domestic abuse is a serious problem in our communities, often with tragic consequences. Legislators, judges, and police struggle with how to protect those who are vulnerable, but the unfortunate reality is that our efforts are often reactionary rather than proactive. For victims of domestic abuse, getting a restraining order is one of the most powerful tools that you have.

Domestic abuse attorney Lauren Wimmer helps victims of abuse get the protection they need so that they can move on to a better future. If you need help and want to discuss your options, call us at 215-712-1212 or send us an email to schedule a free consultation.

What is a PFA Order?

“PFA” stands for “Protection From Abuse.” A PFA Order is Pennsylvania’s term for what is commonly referred to as a restraining order. It is a civil order issued by a judge that protects you or your children from abuse by another person. That person is given a copy of the order and is subject to serious legal consequences if they violate the order.

Some of the protections that a PFA Order can provide include:

  • Order the abuser to leave you and your children alone and have no contact with you
  • Order the abuser to stay away from your home, your place of employment, or your children’s school
  • Order the abuser to turn in any firearms or other weapons
  • Order the abuser to be removed from your home
  • Award temporary custody of your children and establish visitation rights
  • Order the abuser to pay financial support as well as reimburse you for any monetary losses resulting from the abuse (such as medical bills, lost wages, legal fees, and moving expenses)

The protections afforded by the PFA will be subject to approval by a judge and will depend on the circumstances of your case. However, your order can include any protections that are not listed here but may be appropriate.

What is Abuse?

PFA Orders are issued in situations involving abuse between family or household members. Under Pennsylvania law, abuse includes the following:

  • Causing or attempting to cause bodily injury, or any variation of rape, sexual assault, incest, and statutory rape
  • Placing another person in reasonable fear of immediate serious bodily injury
  • Interfering with another person’s freedom of movement
  • Stalking by following another person around or repeatedly committing other acts that cause that person reasonable fear of bodily injury

Who Can File for a PFA Order?

In order to obtain a PFA Order, you must be 18 or older and be seeking protection from someone with whom you have or had a specific type of relationship. The types of relationships that qualify for a PFA are as follows:

  • You are related to them by marriage (a spouse or ex-spouse, in-laws, etc.)
  • You are related to them by bloodline (parents, children, or other relatives)
  • They are the biological parent of your child
  • You have or had an “intimate” relationship with that person, either sexual or non-sexual

It’s important to note that you do not need to live or have lived with the abuser to qualify for a PFA Order.

How Do I Get a PFA Order?

Obtaining a PFA Order is a multi-step process that can be confusing for many non-lawyers. In legal terms, you will need to file a petition with the court asking that they issue a PFA Order. Here is how the process works step-by-step:

  1. Figure out where you need to file your petition. You can file your petition with the Family Court division of the Court of Common Pleas in the county where you live, where you work, where the abuse occurred, or where the abuser lives or works. However, if you are seeking to have the abuser removed from your home, you will have to file a petition in the county where the home is located.
  2. Obtain and Complete the Forms. Once you have decided where you need to file your petition, you need to obtain the forms from the court and fill them out. The forms may be available online, so you can print them out and complete them at home. Follow the directions very carefully and provide as much detail as possible. The prothonotary at the courthouse can help you fill out the forms and answer any questions you may have, but be aware that they cannot give you legal advice.
  3. The Temporary PFA Order. Once you have completed the necessary forms, it will be given to a judge for review. If the judge believes that you or your children are in immediate danger, they will then enter a temporary PFA Order. Once entered, a copy of the Order will be given to the sheriff to be served upon the abuser, and the order will go into effect immediately.
  4. The Hearing. Whether or not the judge grants you a temporary PFA Order, the court will schedule a hearing on your petition within 10 business days. The hearing will be held in front of a judge and will provide both sides an opportunity to argue why or why not your petition should be granted. If you don’t appear, your temporary PFA Order will expire (if you were granted one), and your petition will be dismissed. If the abuser does not appear, the court may enter the final PFA Order automatically or may schedule a second hearing to give them one last chance to appear.

Why You Should Consider Hiring a Lawyer

You are not required to hire a lawyer when seeking a PFA Order. You can fill out the forms on your own and represent yourself at the court hearing. However, hiring legal counsel has numerous advantages:

  • They can help you decide which County you should file in
  • They can identify key facts that will persuade the judge to rule in your favor
  • They can draft the proposed Order to make sure it is clear and offers you and your children the best possible protection
  • They can represent you at the hearing and argue your case on your behalf, allowing you to focus on your testimony
  • They can provide you with an overall legal strategy that can include divorce or filing criminal charges

You may understandably be worried about the expense of hiring a lawyer. As mentioned above, you may be able to require the abuser to pay your legal fees as part of your PFA Order.

Contact Philadelphia Domestic Violence Attorney Lauren Wimmer Today

At Wimmer Criminal Defense Law, we’ve dedicated ourselves to helping build a better future for victims of abuse. With compassion and dedication, attorney Lauren Wimmer will fight for your rights and help you get the protection you need. Call us at 215-712-1212 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation and discuss how we can help you.