Protection from Abuse
What is a Protection from Abuse Order (PFA)?
A Protection from Abuse Order is a Pennsylvania court order that protects household members from abuse by other members of the household. Other jurisdictions may call this a restraining order. A Protection from Abuse Order is commonly referred to as a “PFA” in Pennsylvania.
Who is eligible to obtain a PFA Order?
Any family or household member, sexual/intimate partner, or persons that share biological parenthood that are subject to abuse may seek a PFA Order. Typically an abused spouse or significant other will seek a PFA Order. However, the Protection from Abuse Act is not limited to these parties. An abused sibling or parent may seek relief and a guardian may seek relief on behalf of minor children.
*This list is not exhaustive.
How does the court decide whether or not to grant the PFA Order?
It is the court’s job to decide if the defendant abused the plaintiff. It is the plaintiff’s burden to prove the allegation(s) of abuse by a preponderance of the evidence. Preponderance of the evidence simply means that it must be “more likely than not” that the defendant abused the plaintiff. Another way to think of this is that the evidence must be 51% in favor of the plaintiff. I like to think of the scales of justice in a lawyer’s office. If the scales tip ever so slightly in favor of the plaintiff then the plaintiff wins. Many times the parties can come to an agreement or compromise and a formal PFA hearing will not be necessary.
How does the law define abuse?
Abuse is defined in 23 Pa.C.S. §6102(a) as:
- Attempting to cause or knowingly or recklessly causing injury;
- Placing another in reasonable fear of imminent serious bodily injury;
- Stalking or following a person which places them in reasonable fear of bodily injury.
What relief may the court order?
The court’s order may include any or all the following relief:
- Directing the defendant to stop abusing the plaintiff;
- Evicting the defendant from the plaintiff’s home;
- Awarding the plaintiff temporary custody of the minor children;
- Prohibiting the defendant from having any direct or indirect contact with the plaintiff;
- Directing the defendant to quit stalking or harassing the plaintiff;
- Ordering the defendant to relinquish any firearms in his or her possession.
This list is not exhaustive. See 23 Pa.C.S.A. §6108(a) or contact Jason R. Antoine PFA for more information.
How long will the order be in effect?
The court can set the order for a fixed period of time not to exceed 3 years.
What are the penalties if the defendant violates the court’s order?
If the defendant is found to be in violation of the order he or she is subject to a maximum penalty of 6 months incarceration and a $1000 fine. It is in the court’s discretion to give the defendant probation or jail time. Fines can range from $300-$1000. Please note that criminal contempt of a PFA order is a quasi-criminal matter and the defendant must be found in violation of the order beyond a reasonable doubt.
Contact my office if you or someone you know needs to obtain a restraining order against a family member or significant other or needs to defend against a restraining order. My office has represented clients on both sides of the aisle. My criminal defense practice also defends clients in contempt of the PFA order.