Know the Laws: Pennsylvania
UPDATED October 26, 2016
A protection from abuse order is a civil order that provides protection from harm by family or household members, sexual or intimate partners, or someone with whom you have a child in common.
This section defines abuse for the purposes of getting a protection from abuse order. Abuse is the occurrence of one or more of the following acts between family or household members:
A protection from abuse order is a paper that is signed by a judge and tells the abuser to stop the abuse or face serious legal consequences. It offers civil legal protection from domestic violence to both female and male victims.
In Pennsylvania, there are a few different types of protection from abuse orders (“PFA”). The type of PFA you may initially get depends on whether the judge believes you need protection or not.
If you need immediate protection when the courts are closed (such as on a weekend, late night or holiday), you can call your local police department or 911. They will tell you which magisterial district judge is on-call that night, and provide you with the telephone number where you can reach her or him. If the judge thinks you are in immediate danger, s/he may grant you an emergency order.* An emergency order will only last until the next business day. An emergency order is designed to give you protection until a court opens and you have a chance to ask for an ex parte temporary PFA. If you do not go to court on the next business day to apply for an ex parte temporary PFA, your emergency order will expire.**
Ex parte temporary PFA
When you ask the court for a PFA, a judge will give you an ex parte temporary PFA if s/he finds that you or your minor children are in danger of further domestic abuse and need immediate protection. "Ex parte" means that the judge will make this decision based only on the information you provide, without the abuser being in court. This temporary order will last until your full court hearing for the final PFA where the abuser has an opportunity to testify and present evidence. A hearing is usually scheduled within 10 business days. If the abuser has a gun or weapon, be sure to tell this to the judge when applying for your ex parte temporary PFA so that the judge can order the weapon to be immediately turned over to the sheriff.***
After a hearing in which you both have an opportunity to tell your side of the story through your testimony, evidence, and witnesses, a judge can grant you a final protection from abuse order (PFA). A final PFA lasts up to 3 years and can be extended under certain circumstances.**** To read more about how you can extend a final PFA, see How do I extend my protection from abuse order?
* Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas, Frequently Asked Questions
** 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6110(a),(b)
*** 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6107(a),(b)
**** 23 Pa.C.S.A.§ 6108(d),(e)
A protection from abuse order can offer the following protections for you and your children. It can:
You can file a petition in the county where you live (permanently or temporarily) or work, in any county where the abuser can be served (i.e., where s/he lives or works), or in the county where the abuse took place. However, if you are going to be asking the judge to remove the abuser from the home you share, you MUST file the petition in the county where your home is located.*
* Pa.R.C.P. 1901.1(a)-(b)