The Basics of a PFA Petition

The prevalence of domestic abuse in the United States is striking; according to statistics from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, as of April, 2017:

  • Intimate partner contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking was experienced by 37.3% of U.S. women during their lifetime and 30.9% of U.S. men.
  • Contact sexual violence by an intimate partner was experienced by 1 in 6 women (16.4%) and 1 in 14 men (7%) during their lifetime.
  • Physical violence by an intimate partner was experienced by almost a third of women (32.4%) and more than a quarter of men (28.3%) in their lifetime.
  • Nationally, severe physical violence was experienced by 23.2% of U.S. women and 13.9% of U.S. men during their lifetime.
  • Stalking by an intimate partner was experienced by 9.7% of women and 2.3% of men in their lifetime.
  • Psychological aggression by an intimate partner was experienced by 47.1% of women and 47.3% of men.

In Pennsylvania, the CDC reports that over 1.9 million women, and over 1.4 million men, have experienced contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

A Protection from Abuse petition (PFA) is a court order that provides temporary, protective relief for a victim of abuse for up to three years. PFAs are often referred to in Pennsylvania as a type of restraining order, so the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably. The details of the PFA petition, such as what it covers, who can file, and what the process is, can feel complex, especially during such a volatile time, so we have broken down the basics to make the entire process easier to understand.

Who Can and Cannot File

You can file a PFA petition if you and the abuser fall under the category of family or household members, intimate or sexual partners, or if you share biological parenthood. This umbrella typically includes spouses, ex-spouses, current and former domestic or romantic partners, and blood relatives or relatives by marriage. Additionally, a parent can file a PFA on behalf of a minor child. A PFA will not cover abuse from a stranger or a roommate without an intimate relationship with the victim (although these types of situations might fall under the Protection from Sexual Violence and Intimidation Act. 

How a PFA Can Protect a Victim

During a PFA hearing, a judge will listen to your requests and might grant you some or all of the protection you seek. Your judge can order that your abuser leave a shared residence, even if their name is on the deed or lease. The abuser could also be required to cease all contact with you, seek counseling, relinquish custody of your shared children, or pay child support. If your abuser owns any firearms or has a gun permit, the judge might also revoke the permit and order any firearms to be turned over. The breakdown of a judge’s order is as unique as each individual PFA case. 

The Timeline of a PFA

Once the PFA petition is submitted to a judge, they might determine you (or your children) need immediate protection and sign a temporary order. The temporary PFA stays in effect until the final hearing date, which will be scheduled within ten business days. Upon the decision made at the hearing, the final PFA order could be placed into effect for up to three years. 

What a PFA Covers

You can file a PFA if you have experienced one or more of the following types of abuse:

  • Attempting to cause or intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing bodily injury,  rape, spousal sexual assault or involuntary deviate sexual intercourse (with or without a deadly weapon)
  • Placing another in fear of imminent serious bodily injury
  • False imprisonment
  • Committing physical or sexual abuse of a minor child
  • Knowingly engaging in a course of conduct (also stalking) which places a person in a situation where they have a reasonable fear of bodily injury
  • If you are unsure whether your specific situation falls under one of these categories, your attorney will be able to help you understand the options available and the next steps you should take.

Moving forward with a PFA is a difficult journey, and an experienced attorney can help you prepare and undergo the least amount of emotional stress. At Shafer Law Firm, we have several skilled attorneys happy to assist you and answer any questions about family law that you may have. Contact us for more information. If you are in immediate danger, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY 800-787-3224.

About the Author: Kyle M. Janes

Kyle grew up in Meadville and attended Meadville Area Senior High. He attended college at Allegheny College. Upon graduating from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, Kyle returned to Meadville to serve the community where he grew up.

Kyle has a diverse family law practice, including divorce, support, custody, juvenile dependency, adoption, pre-nuptial agreements, protection from abuse, and other domestic relations issues. His compassion for his clients and his knowledge of the law allow him to work on a full range of cases, from simple to complex.

This content is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this post should be construed as legal advice, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this Post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.

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