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Protection From Abuse orders

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Unfortunately, we hear frequently that many families have been affected by domestic violence in one way or another. The law does afford the victim of domestic violence certain protections, namely that of a Protection From Abuse order. These orders unfortunately, are quite common nationwide and in Allegheny County as well.

Below are some common questions and important things to know about Protection From Abuse orders.

After a recent argument with my live-in boyfriend, he hit me and pushed me into a wall. He threatened to do worse if I ever “tried his patience” again. I took my son and went to my parents’ house, but now I’m not sure what to do. Any suggestions?

Your best recourse would be to go to court and request a Protection From Abuse order (PFA). A PFA is a civil order that you file against the person abusing or threatening you. If there has been either actual or threatened physical abuse which puts you in reasonable fear of bodily injury, you can file a petition with the Court asking to have them removed from a residence that you share for up to 3 years. The order will also typically state that the person have no contact with you as well. To file the petition, you simply go to the Family Division of the Court of Common Pleas weekdays from 9 am-11 am and tell them what you want to do. Emergency PFA petitions can also be obtained either through a local magistrate or through Allegheny County Night Court on First Avenue during times when the normal PFA office is not open. The petition will list the types and instances of abuse you are alleging and list the relief you are seeking as well. The court will then review the petition and either deny the request, or grant a temporary order with the final hearing to be set in 10 business days.

During my most recent visit to my father’s house I noticed bruises on my dad’s arms. When I asked about it, he indicated that my brother (who lives with him) has a temper sometimes. Dad says he’d like him out of the house, but because it’s his son, is there anything that can be done?

A PFA petition can be filed in this instance as well. A PFA can be obtained against any family or household member, including parents and children. PFAs will also apply to any current or former sexual or intimate partner including same sex couples and former spouses. The protections are the same as stated above with the exclusion from a jointly shared residence and a no contact provision as well. Again, the order can be continued for up to 3 years.

I have a temporary PFA against my husband, but I’m not sure I want to divorce him. He’s always been fine with the kids, so I don’t have a problem if he’d see them occasionally. I do know that I will need financial help. Do I have to go to court separately for all of these things?

You are NOT required to file a divorce simultaneously with the PFA petition. Those two files are done separately. That being said, a PFA order can address temporary custody and visitation as well as temporary spousal or child support pending a support hearing.

My wife took out a PFA against me after a recent fight. She’s been contacting me and saying she wants to work things out. What do I do?

The temporary PFA order prohibits you from having any contact with your wife. It does not prevent HER from having any contact with you. In the event that you do attempt to contact her, you will be in violation of the PFA and can be arrested and jailed up until your court date. Even if she has contacted you and attempts to initiate some type of reconciliation, you are still prohibited from having any type of contact with her whether it be phone calls, e-mails, texts or messages you attempt to convey through third parties. If the plaintiff in a PFA decides to drop the petition, they may do so, but you should wait until the court date and allow her to do it then.

I have been falsely accused of abusing my girlfriend. There is not a shred of truth in the petition she filed. What can I do?

Unfortunately we do often hear about the PFA system being abused. Many times people will use PFAs as a tool to gain leverage in many types of family law related matters including divorce, custody and support. In addition, PFA orders will show up when doing a background search and will also prevent you from obtaining/possessing a firearm. A PFA can be removed from your record if it is dismissed or withdrawn, so having an attorney experienced in that area may be of benefit to you. As soon as you receive notice of the PFA you should speak with an attorney immediately to discuss defending the claims against you. Unfortunately, there are no court appointed or free attorneys for PFA defendants, however the Allegheny County Bar Association does offer an income based program that may provide representation at a reduced fee if you qualify.

IF YOU ARE THE VICTIM OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE PLEASE KNOW YOU ARE NOT ALONE AND SEEK HELP IMMEDIATELY.

CALL THE WOMEN’S CENTER AND SHELTER OF GREATER PITTSBURGH AT
412-687-8005.

For a referral to an attorney handling Protection From Abuse Orders please contact the Allegheny County Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service at (412) 261-5555.