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Defense Against Domestic Violence in Pennsylvania

Domestic violence describes a type of abuse inflicted by a family or household member against either a blood relative or close intimate partner. All forms of domestic violence are illegal in Pennsylvania. Under Title 18 Section 2711, if you are a victim of domestic violence, you have rights and protections available to you.

For help with domestic violence, you can call the 24-hour National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). You can also visit the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence to find your closest domestic violence program.

Domestic violence can take many forms. It can include:

  • Physical abuse—hitting, slapping, punching, kicking, or other forms of physical harm
  • Mental abuse—threats, name calling, or abusive language (including online messages, phone calls, voicemails, and text messages)
  • Sexual abuse—sexual assault and rape
  • Economic abuse—destruction of property, harming pets, stealing personal belongings or money, not allowing you to work
  • False imprisonment—limiting your ability to see friends and family, not allowing you to go outside

Anybody can be a victim of domestic violence, including men. It is not limited to women or children. According to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. You have a right to feel safe in your own home regardless of your race, age, gender, or socioeconomic class. If you have been a victim of domestic violence, you can take legal actions against your abuser. Contact Cornerstone Law Firm for help.

Protection from Abuse Orders

If you or your child is a victim of domestic violence, you can file a Protection from Abuse Order (PFA). It is important to note that PFAs are not universal restraining orders and only apply to victims with an intimate or familial relationship to the abuser. This covers situations in which abuse is being inflicted by a:

  • Spouse or domestic partner
  • Boyfriend or girlfriend
  • Parent or grandparent
  • Brother or sister
  • Extended family member (aunt, uncle, cousin, nephew, niece)
  • In-law
  • Former intimate partner

If you are looking to file against a co-worker, former friend, non-intimate roommate, or stranger, a PFA will not cover that. Depending on your situation, you may be able to file a Sexual Violence Protection Order (SVPO) or a Protection from Intimidation Order (PFIO). PFIOs are reserved for minors who are being abused by someone that is 18 years or older.

What does a PFA do?

A PFA provides a form of relief for victims of domestic violence by legally barring an abuser from contacting them or getting within a certain distance of them for a period of time. A PFA can:

  • order the abuser to leave a shared residence,
  • grant temporary custody of any minor children to the victim,
  • award financial support to the victim (i.e. child support, spousal support),
  • order the abuser to surrender any firearms and ammunition to law enforcement.

In most cases, domestic violence is very real. There are, however, unfortunately some cases in which a PFA is filed falsely as a vindictive measure. If you have been falsely accused of domestic violence, contact Cornerstone Law Firm for help.

Filing a PFA

In most cases, you will start by filing for a temporary ex-parte restraining order. This will last for 10 days and immediately remove the abuser from your home, bar them from contacting you, and allow law enforcement to take any firearms from the abuser. During the 10-day period, you will attend a hearing to present your case and any evidence to a judge.

During the hearing, it’s important to have a vigorous legal advocate on your side—the attorneys at Cornerstone Law Firm can help. At the hearing, you can request an extended restraining order. The accused abuser will receive notice of the hearing and may also attend to present their side with legal representation. The judge may make decisions regarding property rights (if there is a shared residence), child custody, and other relevant details.

Final protection orders may be granted. Unlike ex-parte orders, final protection orders are more permanent and can last up to 3 years, with the option to extend them. They take effect immediately after the judge issues them and the abuser will be legally barred from contacting you or being near you.

Are PFAs from Pennsylvania valid in other places?

PFAs from Pennsylvania are valid in every county of Pennsylvania and across state lines. There is a federal law—the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)—that protects victims of domestic violence by requiring all states to honor protection orders from other courts.

Most law enforcement has access to a national database, but it’s a good idea to bring a copy of your PFA if you are traveling or moving. If you are moving, and especially if you are moving out of state, you may want to register your PFA with your new local court. This can allow police to quickly verify orders should you need to call them about a violation. It is important to note, though, that in some states the court may notify the abuser when you register your PFA. As the plaintiff, you are never required to register your PFA. Should you choose not to register, you should have a certified copy at all times (one that is stamped with a raised seal and initialed by the court).

Other Legal Remedies for Domestic Violence

Beyond a PFA, you may have other legal remedies as a victim of domestic violence in Pennsylvania. Those remedies include:

  • Pressing charges—You can report domestic violence to law enforcement, and they may arrest and charge the abuser with criminal offenses like assault, harassment, or stalking.
  • Filing a civil lawsuit—You may be able to seek damages for injuries, medical expenses, or other losses you’ve incurred as a result of the abuse. This can be done in addition to criminal charges.
  • Filing for child custody orders—Courts can consider allegations of domestic violence when deciding on child custody arrangements. If it is found to be in the child’s best interest for contact with the abusive parent to be limited or restricted, the court may include such limitations/restrictions in custody orders.

An experienced family law attorney can help you seek legal remedies for your domestic violence case. At Cornerstone Law Firm, our attorneys are caring and compassionate. We will provide you with thorough legal defense at every step. Contact us to set up a consultation today.