Protection From Abuse

According to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, there were a total of 141 domestic violence related deaths in Pennsylvania in 2012. A firearm or knife was used in 73% of the killings. At Wolf, Baldwin & Associates, P.C., we take very seriously the threat or existence of domestic violence.

To help prevent domestic violence, Pennsylvania allows for the entry of Protection From Abuse ("PFA") Orders pursuant to Chapter 61 of the Domestic Relations law. The law provides for the entry of a PFA Order upon a finding of abuse. "Abuse" is defined as any of the following:

  • Attempting to cause or intentionally, knowingly, or reckless causing, with or without a deadly weapon:
    • Bodily injury,
    • Serious bodily injury,
    • Rape,
    • Involuntary deviate sexual intercourse,
    • Sexual assault,
    • Statutory sexual assault,
    • Aggravated indecent assault,
    • Indecent assault, or
    • Incest.
  • Placing another in reasonable fear of imminent serious bodily injury.
  • False imprisonment.
  • Physical or sexual abuse of a minor child.
  • Knowingly engaging in a course of conduct or repeatedly committing acts towards another person, including following the person, without proper authority, under circumstances which place the person in reasonable fear of bodily injury.

23 Pa.C.S. § 6102(a) (2013).

Persons seeking relief under the PFA law are limited in terms of the individuals from whom they can be protected. One may only obtain a PFA Order against a family or household member. The definition of "family or household member" includes:

  • Spouses,
  • Persons living as spouse or who lived as spouses,
  • Parents,
  • Children,
  • Other persons related by consanguinity or affinity (blood or adoption),
  • Current or former sexual or intimate partners, and
  • Persons who share biological parenthood (even if the individual's parental rights were terminated).

23 Pa.C.S. § 6102(a) (2013). If the relationship between the abuser and the victim does not meet the definition for "family or household member," then the victim must rely solely on criminal law for protection.

In terms of procedure, the initial steps towards obtaining a PFA Order are designed to swiftly slam the brakes on a situation and provide temporary protection against abuse. An individual may assert a claim for a PFA Order at his or her county courthouse, which is typically open 24 hours a day. Upon arrival, the individual will need to file a Petition for a Protection From Abuse Order. Next, the individual will be taken before a judge and asked to present the Petition and the basis for the claim that he or she was abused by a family or household member. The Judge will then take two actions: (1) he or she will grant or deny a temporary PFA Order, and (2) schedule the case for a hearing within the next 10 days. At the next hearing, the individual claiming abuse will be required to present evidence of the abuse. Personal testimony, physical evidence, and witness testimony may be utilized, if appropriate. The alleged-abuser, however, is permitted to appear and defend himself or herself and may also present evidence and witnesses. Following the conclusion of the hearing, the Judge may enter a final Protection From Abuse Order for up to three years.

The consequences of a final PFA Order are serious and, therefore, both potential victims and alleged abusers are strongly encouraged to secure legal counsel. In tailoring a PFA Order, in addition to directing that the abuser refrain from any and all abuse, a judge may also issue orders relevant to exclusive possession of a shared residence or household (even if the abused does not own or legally rent the residence), custody of minor children, and the surrender of firearms. Additionally, a finding of domestic abuse could result the permanent loss of certain rights, including an individual's right to bear firearms. We recommend seeking counsel from one of the attorneys Wolf, Baldwin & Associates, P.C. as soon as possible in order to properly prepare your case for a PFA hearing and ensure a just resolution.