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Family Law

Protection from Abuse

PENNSYLVANIA PROTECTION FROM ABUSE LAWYERS

abuse-2

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is the first state in the country to enact legislation permitting victims of domestic violence to secure a civil order of protection. The Pennsylvania legislature has found and declared that the provisions of the Protection from Abuse Act (23 Pa.C.S. Ch. 61) are necessary and proper in that they further the Commonwealth’s compelling State interest to protect victims of domestic violence from abuse. The Protection from Abuse (PFA)  Act provides immediate temporary protection from domestic violence to family or household members, intimate partners, and children.  The PFA Act’s primary goal is the prevention of physical and sexual abuse, and is not meant to penalize prior criminal conduct.  Although the Second Amendment  to the Constitution of the United States and Article I section 21 of the Constitution of Pennsylvania recognize a fundamental right to keep and bear arms, the PFA Act’s limitation of firearm rights for the duration of a protection from abuse order is deemed a reasonable regulation, a valid exercise of the police power of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and furthers the compelling State interest to protect victims from abuse. Pursuant to the PFA Act, a court may impose limitations on firearm rights prohibiting someone who has engaged in domestic violence from possessing firearms when the court deems it appropriate to do so in order to protect a victim.

What is “Abuse” under the PFA Act?

The Protection from Abuse Act (23 Pa.C.S. §6102(a))  defines “Abuse” as the occurrence of one or more of the following acts between family or household members, sexual or intimate partners or persons who share biological parenthood:

  • Attempting to cause or intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causing bodily injury, serious bodily injury, rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, sexual assault, statutory sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault, indecent assault or incest with or without a deadly weapon.
  • Placing another in reasonable fear of imminent serious bodily injury.
  • The infliction of false imprisonment pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S. §2903 (relating to false imprisonment).
  • Physically or sexually abusing minor children.
  • Knowingly engaging in a course of conduct or repeatedly committing acts toward another person, including following the person, without proper authority under circumstances which place the person in reasonable fear of bodily injury.
How are PFA proceedings commenced?

An adult or an emancipated minor may seek relief under the PFA Act for that person; or any parent, adult household member or guardian ad litem may seek relief on behalf of minor children; or the guardian of the person of an adult who has been declared incompetent may seek relief on behalf of the incompetent adult.  PFA proceedings are commenced  by filing a petition with the court alleging abuse by the defendant. A person who knowingly gives false information to any law enforcement officer with the intent to implicate another under the PFA Act commits an offense under 18 Pa.C.S. 4906 (relating to false reports to law enforcement authorities). 23 Pa.C.S. §6106.

When is the PFA hearing held?

A PFA hearing before the court must be held within 10 business days of the filing of a PFA petition,  at which time the plaintiff must prove the allegation of abuse by a preponderance of the evidence.  The court shall, at the time the defendant is given notice of the hearing, advise the defendant of the right to be represented by counsel;  of the possibility that any firearm, other weapon or ammunition owned and any firearm license possessed may be ordered temporarily relinquished;  of the options for relinquishing of a firearm pursuant to the PFA Act;  of the possibility that Federal law may prohibit the possession of firearms; and that any protection order granted by a court may be considered in any subsequent proceedings under the PFA Act.  This notice must be printed and delivered in a manner which easily attracts attention to its content and shall specify that child custody is one of the proceedings where prior protection orders may be considered.  23 Pa.C.S. §6107.

TEMPORARY PFA ORDERS ISSUED PRIOR TO PFA HEARING

If a plaintiff petitions for a temporary order for protection from abuse and alleges immediate and present danger of abuse to the plaintiff or minor children, the court is required to conduct an ex parte proceeding (i.e., “ex parte” means a legal proceeding brought by one person in the absence of and without representation or notification of other parties).

The court may enter such a temporary order as it deems necessary to protect the plaintiff or minor children when it finds they are in immediate and present danger of abuse. The order shall remain in effect until modified or terminated by the court after notice and hearing.  In addition to any other relief, the court may direct that the defendant temporarily relinquish to the sheriff any firearms, other weapons or ammunition for the duration of the temporary order.  23 Pa.C.S. §6107.

What type of relief may the PFA court grant?

The court, pursuant to 23 Pa.C.S. §6108, may grant any protection order or approve any consent agreement to bring about a cessation of abuse of the plaintiff or minor children including, without limitation:

  1. Directing the defendant to refrain from abusing the plaintiff or minor children.
  2. Granting possession to the plaintiff of the residence or household to the exclusion of the defendant by evicting the defendant or restoring possession to the plaintiff if the residence or household is jointly owned or leased by the parties, is owned or leased by the entireties, or is owned or leased solely by the plaintiff.
  3. If the defendant has a duty to support the plaintiff or minor children living in the residence or household and the defendant is the sole owner or lessee, granting possession to the plaintiff of the residence or household to the exclusion of the defendant by evicting the defendant or restoring possession to the plaintiff or, with the consent of the plaintiff, ordering the defendant to provide suitable alternate housing.
  4. Awarding temporary custody of,  or establishing temporary visitation rights with regard to,  minor children.
  5. Directing the defendant to pay financial support to those persons the defendant has a duty to support; requiring the defendant to provide health coverage for the minor child and spouse;  directing the defendant to pay all of the unreimbursed medical expenses of a spouse or minor child of the defendant to the provider or to the plaintiff when he or she has paid for the medical treatment; and directing the defendant to make, or continue to make,  rent or mortgage payments on the residence of the plaintiff to the extent that defendant has a duty to support the plaintiff or other dependent household members. This support order shall be temporary, and any beneficiary of the order must file a complaint for support within two weeks of the date of the issuance of the protection order.
  6. Prohibiting the defendant from having any contact with the plaintiff or minor children, including, but not limited to,  restraining the defendant from entering the place of employment or business or school of the plaintiff or minor children and from harassing the plaintiff or plaintiff’s relatives or minor children.
  7. Ordering the defendant to temporarily relinquish to the sheriff the defendant’s other weapons and ammunition which have been used or been threatened to be used in an incident of abuse against the plaintiff or the minor children,  and the defendant’s firearms,  and prohibiting the defendant from acquiring or possessing any firearm for the duration of the order and requiring the defendant to relinquish to the sheriff any firearm license. A copy of the court’s order shall be transmitted to the chief or head of the police force or police department of the municipality and to the sheriff of the county of which the defendant is a resident.
  8. If the defendant is a licensed firearms dealer, ordering the defendant to follow such restrictions as the court may require concerning the conduct of his business, which may include ordering the defendant to relinquish any Federal or State license for the sale, manufacture or importation of firearms as well as firearms in the defendant’s business inventory.
  9. Directing the defendant to pay the plaintiff for reasonable losses suffered as a result of the abuse, including medical, dental, relocation and moving expenses; counseling; loss of earnings or support; cost of repair or replacement of real or personal property damaged, destroyed or taken by the defendant or at the direction of the defendant; and other out-of-pocket losses for injuries sustained. In addition to out-of-pocket losses, the court may direct the defendant to pay reasonable attorney fees.
  10. Directing the defendant to refrain from stalking or harassing the plaintiff and other designated persons.
  11. Granting any other appropriate relief sought by the plaintiff.
How long does a PFA Order Last?

A protection order or approved consent agreement shall be for a fixed period of time not to exceed three (3) years. The court may amend its order or agreement at any time upon subsequent petition filed by either party. 23 Pa.C.S. §6108.

CONTEMPT FOR VIOLATION OF PFA ORDER OR CONSENT AGREEMENT

Where the police, sheriff or the plaintiff have filed charges of indirect criminal contempt against a defendant for violation of a PFA protection order or a court-approved consent agreement, the court may hold the defendant in indirect criminal contempt and punish him according to law. A sentence for contempt may include (1) a fine of not less than $300 nor more than $1000 and imprisonment up to six months; or (2) a fine of not less than $300 nor more than $1000 and supervised probation not to exceed six months; and (3) an order for other relief under the PFA Act.  23 Pa.C.S. §6114(b).

STATEWIDE REGISTRY OF PFA ORDERS

The Pennsylvania State Police has established a Statewide registry of protection orders and maintain a complete and systematic record and index of all valid temporary and final court orders of protection, court-approved consent agreements and foreign protection orders filed pursuant to section 6104 (d) of the PFA Act (relating to full faith and credit and foreign protection orders). 23 Pa.C.S. §6105(e).

Charged with a PFA violation? The highly experienced and skillful trial lawyers at Charles Law Offices are here to help.

If you, or a loved one, have been charged with a violation of the Protection from Abuse (PFA) Act, the attorneys at Charles Law Offices are here to help.  At Charles Law Offices, we acknowledge, and support, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s efforts to protect legitimate victims of domestic violence from abuse. At the same time, it is a recognized occurrence  in the legal community  that  some cases of “abuse” are not legitimate.  Instead, the potentially severe penalties authorized by the Protection from Abuse (PFA) Act  —  such as eviction of the defendant from the marital residence, awarding temporary custody of minor children to the plaintiff, and ordering the defendant to  pay financial support to the plaintiff — may be unjustifiably and inappropriately sought by a party in order to gain an unfair tactical advantage  against the other party in existing, or future,  domestic relations litigation.  When that occurs, the salutary purposes and remedies of the Protection from Abuse (PFA) Act may be misapplied or perverted, and injustice can result — especially if you are not legally represented by an experienced and skillful trial attorney. Don’t let it happen to you!

With preeminent and distinguished legal reputations and  nearly  40 years of trial experience and success in handling all types of criminal, civil and family law matters, including Protection from Abuse (PFA) cases, Attorneys Fredrick E. Charles and Dennis G. Charles are second to none when it comes to protecting your legal rights.  If you, or a family member, have questions concerning Protection from Abuse, divorce, equitable distribution of marital assets, spousal support, alimony, alimony pendente lite, child custody, prenuptial contracts,  or other family law matters, give Charles Law Offices a call at 610-437-7064, or fill out the screen questionnaire.  Our staff of highly trained, knowledgeable and experienced trial attorneys is here 24/7  to guide you through this troubled time, and help you with all of your family law questions and issues. Don’t settle for anything less!

 

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with a lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the attorneys at Charles Law Offices.

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A Family History of Devotion to
Law and Public Service

The Charles Brothers’ devotion to the law is derived from a family history in the legal system and of service to others. Their father, Charles “Chink” Charles (depicted in the lower left-hand corner of the photograph) held a 35 year career in law enforcement, and was selected to serve as the personal bodyguard for former United States Presidents John F. Kennedy, Richard M. Nixon and Lyndon B. Johnson during their campaign visits to Allentown.

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