Protection From Abuse (PFA)
What is a PFA?
A PFA or “protection from abuse” is a civil court order that directs a person (the “defendant”) to refrain from stalking, abusing, harassing, threatening, or harming the victim who files the PFA (the “plaintiff”). PFAs are not criminal charges or complaints. The purpose of a PFA is to stop ongoing abuse and violence, and to prevent abuse from occurring again.
What do they mean by “abuse?”
“Abuse,” for purposes of a PFA, is defined very broadly. It is not limited to mere physical bodily injury, but also includes attempting or threatening to cause bodily injury; committing, attempting to commit, or threatening to commit sexual assault, rape, incest and other sexually based offenses; false imprisonment; and stalking behavior, such as repeatedly following an individual without permission or authority to do so, which places the plaintiff in reasonable fear of bodily injury.
Who can file for a PFA?
In Pennsylvania, PFAs address instances of abuse among family and/or household members. A victim can file a PFA against a defendant if they have, or have had at some point, one of the following relationships with the defendant: spouse or a former spouse, persons who currently or formerly lived as spouses, current or former sexual and intimate partners, people related to them by blood or marriage and persons who share biological parenthood.
My roommate threatened me and I do not feel safe around her. Can I file a PFA against her since we live in the same house?
Unless your roommate is also your sexual partner or you are related by either blood or marriage, you cannot seek a PFA. You cannot file for PFA against an individual merely because you live in the same house. In this circumstance, the plaintiff who is afraid of their roommate should call their local police department.
Can I file a PFA on behalf of my child?
Yes. A parent, an adult household member and/or a guardian ad litem of a minor child can seek relief on behalf of the minor child. Once the child is 18 years old, they must pursue relief on their own. Similarly, a guardian of an incapacitated adult may seek the protection of a PFA on behalf of the incapacitated person in their care.
How do I file for a PFA?
You can go to your local police office or magistrate court to begin the PFA process. Some counties, including Allegheny County, have special programs that provide legal assistance to plaintiffs seeking a PFA. You will have to complete a petition in which you provide your personal information and a description of the incident that led to you filing the PFA.
What happens after I file a PFA?
After a petition for a PFA is filed, a judge can issue a temporary PFA. The temporary PFA will order the defendant to stay away from the plaintiff. If the defendant violates the order, they can be arrested. When the temporary PFA order is issued, the judge will also schedule a final PFA hearing.
How do I file a PFA on a night or a weekend when the courts are closed?
If you need to file a PFA and the courts are closed, each county has specific procedures for granting emergency PFAs.
Can filing for a PFA affect the custody of my children?
Yes, PFAs will usually affect custody arrangements. PFAs are never to be used merely to address a custody dispute.
Can I file a PFA against my spouse if they have already filed a PFA against me?
Yes. This is called a “cross-PFA.” Both parties are asking for protection from each other.
Does the defendant have to know that I filed for a PFA?
Yes. Before the final PFA hearing, the defendant must be served with formal notice of the PFA and the date of the final hearing.
What happens at the PFA hearing?
At the PFA hearing, the plaintiff and defendant will likely both have to testify. Third-party witnesses may also be present to testify. There may also be documents, such as medical records, text messages and emails, videos, voicemails and other evidence. The goal of the hearing is for the plaintiff to demonstrate to the judge that they have been the victim of abuse at the hands of the defendant and relief, in the form of a Permanent PFA order should be entered.
Does there have to be a hearing?
Not necessarily. As long as the defendant has been properly served with notice of the hearing, if the defendant fails to show up, a PFA can be entered by default. Also, a defendant can consent to have the PFA entered against them.
What happens if the defendant violates the PFA?
A defendant who violates a PFA will be arrested and subject to criminal penalties.
I have a protection order from another state. Is it enforceable in Pennsylvania?
Yes; Pennsylvania will enforce out-of-state protection orders. If you have an out-of-state protection order, you should check your local rules to determine how to register your order.