En Español
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or (TTY) 1-800-787-3224

Know the Laws: Pennsylvania

UPDATED May 25, 2017

Protection from Abuse Orders (PFA)

Print this page
View by Section

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.

Basic information

back to topWhat is the legal definition of domestic violence in Pennsylvania?

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:

  1. Attempting to cause or causing (with or without a deadly weapon):
      • Bodily injury or serious bodily injury;
      • Rape;
      • Involuntary deviate sexual intercourse (oral sex, anal sex, vaginal or anal penetration with a foreign object performed under force or the threat of force, or while unconscious);*
      • Sexual assault or statutory sexual assault;
      • Aggravated indecent assault (vaginal or anal penetration with a finger or other body part under force or threat of force, or while unconscious);**
      • Indecent assault (touching a person’s intimate parts for the purposes of arousal without consent, under force or threat of force, or while the person is unconscious);***
      • Incest; or
  1. Placing another in reasonable fear of immediate serious bodily injury;
  2. False imprisonment;
  3. Physical or sexual abuse of a child; or
  4. Engaging in a course of conduct or repeatedly committing acts toward another person, including following the person, under circumstances which place the person in reasonable fear of bodily injury.****
For the exact definitions of the legal terms listed in this section, please go to our PA Statutes page.

* 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 3123(a)
** 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 3125(a)
*** 18 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 3126(a); 3101
**** 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6102(a)

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topWhat is a protection from abuse order (PFA)?

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.

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topWhat types of protection from abuse orders are there? How long do they last?

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.

Emergency order
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.***

Final PFA
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)

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topHow can a protection from abuse order protect me?

A protection from abuse order can offer the following protections for you and your children. It can:

  • order the abuser not to abuse, harass, or stalk you, your relatives or your minor children;
  • order the abuser to be removed from the home where you both live and grant you possession of the home; Note: Under certain circumstances, if you are living in a home where the abuser is the only owner or tenant, the judge can still remove the abuser from the home or, with your consent, order him/her to provide you with suitable alternate housing.
  • award temporary custody or temporary visitation rights of your minor children;
  • order the abuser to pay financial support (including medical bills, health insurance, rent or mortgage payments) to you or your children;
  • prohibit the abuser from having any contact with you or minor children, including staying away from your or your child's place of employment or business or school;
  • order the abuser to turn any of his/her firearms, other weapons, and ammunition to the sheriff or police, if s/he used them or threatened to use them during the abuse, and prohibit him/her from getting additional firearms;
  • order the abuser to pay you for reasonable losses resulting from the abuse (this may include the cost of medical/ dental care, relocation and moving expenses, attorney and counseling costs, as well as loss of earnings or support); and
  • grant any other appropriate relief you request.*
Whether or not a judge orders any or all of the above depends on the facts of your case.

* 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6108(a)

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topIn which county can I file for a protection from abuse order?

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)

Did you find this information helpful?

Who can get a protection from abuse order

back to topWho can get a protection from abuse order (PFA)?

If you are an adult (person 18 or over) or emancipated minor, you can seek legal protection from acts of domestic abuse done to you or your minor child by a family or household member, which includes:

  • your husband or ex-husband;
  • your wife or ex-wife;
  • a person who lives or lived with you as a spouse;
  • your brother or sister;
  • your parent or child;
  • a family member related to you by blood or marriage;
  • a current or former sexual or intimate partner; and
  • someone you have a child in common with.*
* 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6102(a)

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topCan I get a protection from abuse order against a same-sex partner?

In Pennsylvania, you may apply for a protection from abuse order (PFA) against a current or former same-sex partner as long as the relationship meets the requirements listed in Who can get a protection from abuse order (PFA)?  You must also be the victim of an act of domestic violence, which is explained here What is the legal definition of domestic violence in Pennsylvania?

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topCan I get a protection from abuse order if I am a minor?

Yes.   However, as a minor* (a person under the age of 18), you will need a parent, adult household member or guardian ad litem to file the protection from abuse order on your behalf.**

* 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6102(a)
** 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6106(a)

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topHow much does it cost?

You will not be required to pay any fees when you file a petition for a protection from abuse order.  If you are granted a PFA, the judge may require the defendant to pay all the fees of filing and service as well as an additional $100, which goes towards enforcement of domestic violence laws.*

* 23 Pa.C.S.A.§ 6106(b)-(d)

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topDo I need a lawyer?

No, you do not need a lawyer to file for a protection from abuse order, but it is generally better to have one if you can, especially if the abuser has an attorney.  In many places, local domestic violence or sexual assault programs can help you file for a PFA.  The prothonotary, or courthouse official in charge of records, may also be able to give you some forms and information.  Please keep in mind that courthouse officials and domestic violence advocates who are not lawyers cannot give you legal advice or represent you in court.  You will find a list of legal organizations that might be able to help you at the PA Finding a Lawyer page.  You will find contact information for prothonotaries at the PA Courthouse Locations page.

 

Did you find this information helpful?

The steps for getting a PFA

back to topStep 1: Get the petition at the courthouse.

You can file your petition for a protection from abuse order with the Court of Common Pleas in the county where you live (permanently or temporarily), where you 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.*  (To find the courthouse in the county where you plan to file, see our PA Courthouse Locations page.)  Remember to bring some form of identification (a driver's license or a picture I.D.) with you to court.  You may also want to call the courthouse in advance (if you can) to see if there are certain times that petitions are presented to the judge.  If you come after the scheduled time-slots, your petition may be referred to a magisterial judge for an emergency order and then you would have to return to courthouse the next day to file for the temporary PFA order.**

At the courthouse, the prothonotary will provide you with the forms that you need to file.  The prothonotary may assist you with filing the papers but will not be able to give you legal advice.  You will also find links to online forms at our PA Download Court Forms page.

Also, you may be able to get help through one of the domestic violence organizations listed on our PA State and Local Programs page.

Note: You will not be charged any fee for filing a PFA petition.***

If you need to file for an order immediately and the county courthouse is closed, call your local police department or 911 to see which magisterial district judge is on-call.  S/he may be able to grant you an emergency order that will last until the next business day when you must go to the prothonotary to file for a protection from abuse order.****

* Pa.R.C.P. 1901.1(a)-(b)
** Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas, FAQs.
*** 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6106(b)
**** 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6110(a)-(b)

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topStep 2: Fill out the forms.

You will need to fill out the necessary forms including a protection from abuse (PFA) petition.  On the petition, you will be the plaintiff and the abuser will be the defendant.

Read the protection from abuse petition carefully and ask questions to the courthouse staff if you don’t understand something. Describe in detail how the abuser (defendant) injured or threatened you.  Explain when and where the abuse or threats occurred if he used or threatened you with a weapon, be sure to include that. Write about the most recent incident of violence, using descriptive language (e.g. slapping, hitting, grabbing, choking, threatening, etc.) that fits your situation.  Be specific.  Include details and dates, if possible.

Do not sign the form until you have shown it to a prothonotary.  You might need to sign the form in front of a notary or a judge at the courthouse.

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topStep 3: A judge will review your petition and may grant you an ex parte temporary PFA.

Your petition will be given to the judge.  If the judge believes that you or your children are in immediate danger, s/he may sign a temporary order.  This order will stay in effect until the full hearing is heard (within ten business days) at which time you can be granted a final PFA.*  Copies of the temporary order and the petition you filed will be given to you.  You will need to give a copy of the petition and the order to the sheriff so that it can be served on the abuser.  You will also have to complete the sheriff’s service form.  The service form gives the sheriff the information necessary to notify the defendant of the court hearing.

In some counties, someone other than the sheriff may serve the defendant.**  The prothonotary will be able to tell you this.

Remember to keep a copy of the temporary order with you at all times.

* 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6107(a)-(b)
** 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6106(e)-(g)

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topStep 4: The hearing

Whether a judge grants you a temporary order or not, you may be given a court date for a court hearing on your petition within ten business days (assuming that your petition is not dismissed).  The hearing will be in front of a judge, who will decide whether or not to give you a final PFA.*

It is very important that you attend the court hearing.  If you do not go to the hearing, your temporary order will expire and you will have to start the process over.  If you absolutely cannot attend, contact the prothonotary immediately and ask how you can get a "continuance" for a later court date.

If the abuser does not attend the hearing, the court may issue a "default judgment" against him/her and you may receive a final protection from abuse order in his/her absence. The judge also may decide to pick a new hearing date to give the abuser another chance to come to court. If this happens, be sure to ask the judge to extend your temporary order if you have one.

At the hearing, you will have the chance to testify in court and present evidence and witnesses to prove the abuse and harassment you have experienced. The abuser will also be allowed to be present evidence and testify in the hearing to defend himself/herself.  You may want to get a lawyer to represent you at that hearing, especially if you think the abuser will have one.  Go to our PA Finding a Lawyer page for a listing of free and paid lawyers.   If you are going to be in court without a lawyer, you can visit our Preparing your Case section for ways that you can show the judge that you were abused.

* 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6107(a)

Did you find this information helpful?

After the hearing

back to topWhat should I do when I leave the courtroom?

Here are some things you may want to consider doing.  However, you will have to evaluate each one to see if it works for your situation. 

  • Review the order before you leave the courthouse. If something is wrong or missing, ask the clerk how to correct the order before you leave.
  • Make several copies of the order as soon as possible.
  • Keep a copy of the order with you at all times.
  • Leave copies of the order at your workplace, at your home, at the children’s school or daycare, in your car, with a sympathetic neighbor, and so on.
  • Give a copy to the security guard or person at the front desk where you live and/or work along with a picture of the abuser.
  • Give a copy of the order to anyone who is named in, and protected by, the order.
  • If the court has not given you an extra copy for your local law enforcement agency, you may want to take one of your extra copies and deliver it to them.  The prothonotary is supposed send a copy of the PFA to the police within 24 hours after it's issued.*
  • You may wish to consider changing your locks (if permitted by law) and your phone number.

Ongoing safety planning is important after receiving the order.  People can do a number of things to increase their safety during violent incidents, when preparing to leave an abusive relationship, and when they are at home, work, and school.  Many abusers obey orders of protection, but some do not.  It is important to build on the things you have already been doing to keep yourself safe.  For more information please visit the Staying Safe page.  Advocates at local domestic violence programs can assist you in designing a safety plan and can provide other forms of support.  To find help near you, visit our PA State and Local Programs page.

* 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6105(e)(2)

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topWhat can I do if the abuser violates the order?

If the abuser violates any part of the order, you can call the police and report the violation.  A police officer can arrest the abuser, even if the officer does not witness the abuse.  After an arrest, the officer must take all firearms, other weapons or ammunition that were used or threatened to be used during the violation of the order or during prior incidents of the abuse.*

An abuser who violates a PFA can face criminal contempt charges for the violation in addition to charges for any crime(s) s/he commits during the violation.  After a hearing, s/he can be found in contempt and placed in jail for up to six months and/or be fined between $300 and $1,000.**

* 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6113(b)
** 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6114(b)

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topHow do I extend my protection from abuse order?

If there was a violation of the PFA and a criminal contempt hearing is pending, your PFA will be extended until the end of the criminal hearing and possibly longer.  However, even if there is no contempt hearing pending, you can still file to extend your order by returning to the courthouse and filing for an extension of your PFA.  The judge can extend a final PFA if s/he believes that the abuser committed one or more acts of abuse while you had the final order or behaved in other ways that indicates a continued risk of harm to the you or your child. If necessary, the order can be extended more than once.  There is no limit on the number of extensions that may be granted.*

* 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6108(e)

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topWhat if I move and change my address?

Federal law provides what is called "full faith and credit," which means that once you have a criminal or civil protection order, it follows you wherever you go, including U.S. Territories and tribal lands.  Therefore, in Pennsylvania, the courts and police will recognize and enforce a valid protection order from another state.*

Pennsylvania does not require that a PFA be filed for it to be enforced. ** You may choose to file a certified copy of your protection order with the prothonotary in other counties in Pennsylvania (such as the county where you work or move to) as an extra precaution, but this is not mandatory.  A protection order from a Pennsylvania judge is enforceable in any county in the state, regardless of whether you've filed it in that county.*  You can ask for a certified copy of your protective order in the court where it was issued – you will not be charged a fee in Pennsylvania for certified copies.**   For more information on certifying your PFA see Do I need anything special to get my PFA enforced in another state?

Different states have different rules for enforcing out-of-state protection orders.  If you are moving outside of Pennsylvania, you can find out about that state’s policies by contacting a domestic violence program, the clerk of courts, or a prosecutor in that area.  You can also call the National Center on Protection Orders and Full Faith & Credit (1-800-903-0111, ext. 2) for information on enforcing your order in another state.

To read more information about how moving out of Pennsylvania may affect your PFA, please see our Moving to Another State with Your Protection From Abuse Order page.

Note: For information on enforcing a military protective order (MPO) off the military installation, or enforcing a civil protection order (CPO) on a military installation, please see our Military Protective Orders page.

* 23 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 6104(a)-(e); 6105(h)
** 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6104(d)(3)
** 23 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 6102; 6104(d)

Did you find this information helpful?

back to top