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Legal Information: Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Restraining Orders

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Restraining Orders

This section contains information about protection from abuse orders, protection from sexual violence or intimidation orders, and moving in and out of state with a protection order.

Protection from Abuse Orders (PFA)

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

What 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);1
      • 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);2
      • 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);3
      • 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.4

For the exact definitions of the legal terms listed in this section, please go to our PA Statutes page.

1 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 3123(a)
2 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 3125(a)
3 18 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 3126(a); 3101
4 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6102(a)

What 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.

What 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.1  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.2

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.3

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.4  To read more about how you can extend a final PFA, see How do I extend my protection from abuse order?

1 Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas, Frequently Asked Questions
2 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6110(a),(b)
3 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6107(a),(b)
4 23 Pa.C.S.A.§ 6108(d),(e)

What protections can I get in a protection from abuse order?

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.1

Whether or not a judge orders any or all of the above depends on the facts of your case.

1 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6108(a)

In 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.1

1 Pa.R.C.P. 1901.1(a)-(b)

If the abuser lives in a different state, can I still get an order against him/her?

When you and the abuser live in different states, the judge may not have “personal jurisdiction” (power) over an out-of-state abuser. This means that the court may not be able to grant an order against him/her.

There are a few ways that a court can have personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state abuser:

  1. The abuser has a substantial connection to your state. Perhaps the abuser regularly travels to your state to visit you, for business, to see extended family, or the abuser lived in your state and recently fled.
  2. One of the acts of abuse “happened” in your state. Perhaps the abuser sends you threatening texts or harassing phone calls from another state but you read the messages or answer the calls while you are in your state. The judge could decide that the abuse “happened” to you while you were in your state. It may also be possible that the abuser was in your state when s/he abused you s/he but has since left the state.
  3. If you file your petition and the abuser gets served with the court petition while s/he is in your state, this is another way for the court to get jurisdiction.

However, even if none of the above apply to your situation, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t get an order. If you file, you may be granted an order on consent or the judge may find other circumstances that allow the order to be granted.

You can read more about personal jurisdiction in our Court System Basics - Personal Jurisdiction section.

Note: If the judge in your state refuses to issue an order, you can file for an order in the courthouse in the state where the abuser lives. However, remember that you will likely need to file the petition in person and attend various court dates, which could be difficult if the abuser’s state is far away.

Who can get a protection from abuse order

Who 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.1

1 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6102(a)

Can 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?

You can find information about LGBTQIA victims of abuse and what types of barriers they may face on our LGBTQIA Victims page.

Can I get a protection from abuse order if I am a minor?

Yes. However, as a minor1 (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.2

1 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6102(a)
2 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6106(a)

How 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.1

1 23 Pa.C.S.A.§ 6106(b)-(d)

Do 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.

 

If you are going to be in court without a lawyer, our Preparing for Court – By Yourself section may be useful to you.

The steps for getting a PFA

Step 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.1  (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.2

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 Advocates and Shelters page.

Note: You will not be charged any fee for filing a PFA petition.3

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.4

1 Pa.R.C.P. 1901.1(a)-(b)
2Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas, FAQs.
3 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6106(b)
4 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6110(a)-(b)

Step 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.

Step 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.1 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.2 The prothonotary will be able to tell you this.

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

1 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6107(a)-(b)
2 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6106(e)-(g)

Step 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.1

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. You can learn more about the court system in our Preparing for Court – By Yourself section.

1 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6107(a)

After the hearing

Can the abuser have a gun?

Once you get a protection order, there may be laws that prohibit the respondent from having a gun in his/her possession.  There are a few places where you can find this information:

  • first, read the questions on this page to see if judges in Pennsylvania have to power to remove guns as part of a temporary or final order;
  • second, go to our State Gun Laws section to read about your state’s specific gun-related laws; and
  • third you can read our Federal Gun Laws section to understand the federal laws that apply to all states.

You can read more about keeping an abuser from accessing guns on the National Domestic Violence and Firearms Resource Center’s website

What 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.1
  • 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 Safety Tips 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 Advocates and Shelters page.

1 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6105(e)(2)

What 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.1

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 $1,000.2

1 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6113(b)
2 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6114(b)

How 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 indicate 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.1

1 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6108(e)

What 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.1

Pennsylvania does not require that a PFA be filed for it to be enforced. 2 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.1  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.2   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.

1 23 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 6104(a)-(e); 6105(h)
2 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6104(d)(3)
2 23 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 6102; 6104(d)

Protection from Sexual Violence or Intimidation Orders

A civil order that provides protection for victims of sexual violence or intimidation that can be filed against someone who is not a family or household member or intimate partner.

Basic info

What is the legal definition of sexual violence or intimidation in Pennsylvania?

For the purpose of getting a protection from sexual violence or intimidation order, the abuser must have committed one of two crimes against you: “sexual violence” or “intimidation” (although the abuser does not have to be arrested/reported to the police).

Sexual violence is defined as actions that fall under any of these crimes:

  • sexual offenses (listed under Title 18, Chapter 31 of the law - we list many here);
  • endangering the welfare of children if the offense involved sexual contact with the children;
  • corruption of minors; 
  • sexual abuse of children; 
  • unlawful contact with a minor; or  
  • sexual exploitation of children.1

Intimidation is when an abuser, who is 18 or older, commits either of these crimes against you if you are under the age of 18:

1 42 Pa.C.S. § 62A03

What types of protection from sexual violence or intimidation orders are available? How long do they last?

There are three types of sexual violence or intimidation protection orders available in Pennsylvania:

  • emergency orders;
  • ex parte temporary orders; and
  • extended orders.

A hearing officer can grant you an emergency order if the judge is unavailable, and the hearing officer believes that the emergency order is necessary to protect you because you are in immediate and present danger by the abuser or there is good cause to grant the order. The emergency order expires at the end of the next business day that the judge is available.3

You can get an ex parte temporary order if you are the victim of sexual violence or intimidation, and the order is necessary to protect you from immediate and present danger by the abuser. This order will remain in effect until it is modified or terminated after there has been notice to the abuser and the opportunity for a hearing.1 A hearing must be held within ten days after you file for your ex parte temporary order.2

A judge can grant an extended order after the abuser receives notice and has the opportunity to attend a hearing. At the hearing, the judge must find that you are a victim of sexual violence or intimidation and that you are still at risk of harm by the abuser. The judge can grant an extended order for a set period of time not longer than three years. A judge can also grant an unlimited number of extensions.4

1 42 Pa.C.S. § 62A06(b)
2 42 Pa.C.S. § 62A06(a)
3 42 Pa.C.S. § 62A09(a),(b)
4 42 Pa.C.S. § 62A07(d)

What protections can I get in a protection from sexual violence or intimidation order?

After a hearing, if the judge grants you a protection from sexual violence or intimidation order, the judge can order that the abuser not:

  • enter your home;
  • enter your place of work, business, or school; and
  • have any contact with you (or other specific protected parties) either directly or through a third person.1

The judge can also order anything else that s/he believes is necessary to protect you.1

1 42 Pa.C.S. § 62A07(b)

If the abuser lives in a different state, can I still get an order against him/her?

When you and the abuser live in different states, the judge may not have “personal jurisdiction” (power) over an out-of-state abuser. This means that the court may not be able to grant an order against him/her.

There are a few ways that a court can have personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state abuser:

  1. The abuser has a substantial connection to your state. Perhaps the abuser regularly travels to your state to visit you, for business, to see extended family, or the abuser lived in your state and recently fled.
  2. One of the acts of abuse “happened” in your state. Perhaps the abuser sends you threatening texts or harassing phone calls from another state but you read the messages or answer the calls while you are in your state. The judge could decide that the abuse “happened” to you while you were in your state. It may also be possible that the abuser was in your state when s/he abused you s/he but has since left the state.
  3. If you file your petition and the abuser gets served with the court petition while s/he is in your state, this is another way for the court to get jurisdiction.

However, even if none of the above apply to your situation, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t get an order. If you file, you may be granted an order on consent or the judge may find other circumstances that allow the order to be granted.

You can read more about personal jurisdiction in our Court System Basics - Personal Jurisdiction section.

Note: If the judge in your state refuses to issue an order, you can file for an order in the courthouse in the state where the abuser lives. However, remember that you will likely need to file the petition in person and attend various court dates, which could be difficult if the abuser’s state is far away.

Getting the order

Am I eligible to file for a protection from sexual violence or intimidation order?

To get a protection from sexual violence or intimidation order, you must show that you have been the victim of sexual violence or intimidation by someone who is not a family/household member or someone with whom you had a prior intimate relationship.  For the definitions of sexual violence and intimidation, see What is the legal definition of sexual violence and intimidation?

If you are a victim of sexual violence or intimidation by a current/former intimate partner or family/household member, then you may qualify for a protection from abuse order.1

1 42 Pa.C.S. § 62A03

How much does it cost to get a protection from sexual violence or intimidation order?

There is no fee for filing a petition or having it served on the offender (known as “service of process”). Also, there is no fee for registering, withdrawing, dismissing, or appealing a sexual violence or intimidation protection order.1

1 42 Pa.C.S. § 62A05(c)(1)(i)

You can find more information about service of process in our Preparing for Court – By Yourself section, in the question called What is service of process and how do I accomplish it?

Can I file a petition on my own? Do I need a lawyer?

You do not need a lawyer to file a sexual violence or intimidation protection order – you can file on your own.  However, you may wish to have a lawyer represent you on the case, especially if the abuser has a lawyer.  If you can, contact a lawyer to make sure that your legal rights are protected.  If you cannot afford a lawyer but want one to help you with your case, you can find information on legal assistance on the PA Finding a Lawyer page.

The court staff will provide you with basic forms to help you file for your restraining order and will assist you in English and Spanish with filing for an order if you do not have a lawyer.  The court staff will also give you contact information in English and Spanish for local sexual assault services, legal services, and bar associations to find a lawyer.1

1 42 Pa.C.S. § 62A05(e)(1),(2)

If you are going to be in court without a lawyer, our Preparing for Court – By Yourself section may be useful to you.

Can a minor or incapacitated adult file for a protection from sexual violence or intimidation order?

Yes, if you are an emancipated minor, you can file for a protection order (an emancipated minor is someone who has gone through the court process to become legally recognized as an adult). If you are under the age of 18 and not emancipated, a parent, adult household member, or guardian ad litem can file for a protection order on your behalf. A guardian of an incapacitated adult (as decided by a judge) can file for a restraining order on behalf of the adult.1

1 42 Pa.C.S. § 62A05(a)

After the hearing

What should I do when I leave the courthouse?

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 work place, 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 photo of the offender.
  • 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, take one of your extra copies and deliver it to them.
  • You may wish to consider changing your locks (if permitted by law) and your phone number.

Where can I go for non-legal help and support?

You may want to reach out for support to deal with the trauma of being a victim of sexual violence or intimidation – there are places that you can call for help.  There are also Internet “chat rooms” for victims of sexual violence or intimidation where you can remain anonymous and still get support from others who have been through similar assaults.  Go to our National Organizations - Rape/Sexual Assault page for resources.

How do I change or extend my protection from sexual violence or intimidation order?

You can extend an ex parte temporary protection from sexual violence or intimidation order if the judge thinks that you are at a continued risk of harm because of the offender’s actions or because of other circumstances. The abuser must be given notice and the opportunity to participate in a hearing before the judge extends your order. The judge can issue an unlimited number of extensions of your order.1

Either party can request that the judge modify (change) the relief granted in a protection order any time while the order is in effect. The party requesting that the judge change the order must give the other party notice of that request. Then, the judge will decide whether or not to change the order after a hearing.2

1 42 Pa.C.S. § 62A07(d)
2 42 Pa.C.S. § 62A17(a)

What can I do if the abuser violates the order?

You may want to call the police if the abuser violates a provision of your order. If the officer has probable cause to believe that the abuser violated the order, the abuser may be arrested.1 It is a crime to knowingly violate a court order, and the judge can punish someone for being in contempt of court. A contempt hearing will be scheduled within 10 days of the abuser being charged or the filing of a complaint.2

1 42 Pa.C.S. § 62A12(a)
2 42 Pa.C.S. § 62A12(e)

Moving to Another State with Your Protection from Abuse Order

If you are moving out of state or are going to be out of the state for any reason, your protection from abuse order can still be enforceable.

General rules

Can I get my PFA from Pennsylvania enforced in another state?

Yes.  If you have a valid Pennsylvania protection from abuse order (PFA) that meets federal standards, it can be enforced in another state.  The Violence Against Women Act, which is a federal law, states that all valid PFA orders granted in the United States receive “full faith and credit” in all state and tribal courts within the US, including US territories.1  See How do I know if my PFA is good under federal law? to find out if your PFA qualifies.

Each state must enforce out-of-state PFA orders in the same way it enforces its own orders, so if the abuser violates your out-of-state PFA, s/he will be punished according to the laws of whatever state you are in when the order is violated.  This is what is meant by “full faith and credit.”2

1 18 U.S.C. § 2265(a)
2 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6104(a)

How do I know if my PFA is good under federal law?

A protection from abuse order (PFA) is good anywhere in the United States as long as:

  • It was issued to prevent violent or threatening acts, harassing behavior, sexual violence, or it was issued to prevent another person from coming near you or contacting you.1
  • The court that issued the order had jurisdiction over the people and case.  (In other words, the court had the authority to hear the case.)
  • The abuser received notice of the order and had an opportunity to go to court to tell his/her side of the story.  It doesn’t matter if s/he actually showed up in court; just that s/he had the opportunity to do so.
    • In the case of ex parte temporary and emergency orders, the abuser must receive notice and have an opportunity to go to court to tell his/her side of the story at a hearing that is scheduled within a “reasonable time” after the order is issued.2

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.

118 U.S.C. § 2266(5)(A)
2 18 U.S.C. § 2265(a)-(b)

I have an ex-parte temporary order. Can it be enforced in another state?

Yes.   An ex parte temporary order can be enforced in other states as long as it meets the requirements listed in How do I know if my PFA is good under federal law?1

Note: The state where you are going generally cannot extend your ex parte temporary order or issue you a permanent order when the temporary one expires.  If you need to extend your temporary order, you will have to contact the state that issued the order and arrange to be at the hearing in person or by telephone (if that is an option offered by the court).  However, you may be able to reapply for one in the new state that you are moving to if you meet the requirements for getting a protective order in that state – but, if you apply for one in a new state, the abuser would know what state you are living in, which may put you in danger.

1 18 U.S.C. § 2265(b)(2)

 

Getting your protection from abuse order enforced in another state

How do I get my PFA enforced in another state?

Federal law does not require you to take any special steps to get your protection from abuse order (PFA) enforced in another state.

Many states do have laws or regulations (rules) about registering or filing of out-of-state orders, which can make enforcement easier, but a valid PFA is enforceable regardless of whether it has been registered or filed in the new state.1  Rules differ from state to state, so it may be helpful to find out what the rules are in your new state.  You can contact a local domestic violence organization for more information by visiting our Advocates and Shelters page and entering your new state in the drop-down menu.

1 18 U.S.C. § 2265(d)(2)

Do I need anything special to get my PFA enforced in another state?

In some states, you will need a certified copy of your PFA. A certified copy says that it is a “true and correct” copy; it is signed and initialed by the prothonotary that gave you the order, and usually has some kind of court stamp on it. In Pennsylvania, a certified copy may be a paper copy of the original order endorsed by the prothonotary or an electronic copy with a digital signature of the judge or prothonotary. A raised seal is not required for it to be a certified copy.1

At the time your PFA was ordered, you should have received 3 copies of it, but those copies were most likely not certified. In order to get a certified copy, call or go to the court that gave you the order and ask the prothonotary’s office for a certified copy. According to the law, you are not supposed to be charged anything for certified copies of the PFA.2

Note: It is generally a good idea to keep a copy of the order with you at all times. You may also want to leave copies of the order at your work place, at your home, at the children’s school or daycare, in your car, with a sympathetic neighbor, and so on. You may want to give a copy to the security guard or person at the front desk where you live and/or work along with a photo of the abuser. You may also want to give a copy of the order to anyone who is named in and protected by the order.

1 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6102
2 23 Pa,C.S.A. § 6104(d)(3)

Can I get someone to help me? Do I need a lawyer?

You do not need a lawyer to get your PFA enforced in another state.

However, you may want to get help from a local domestic violence advocate or attorney in the state that you move to.  A domestic violence advocate can let you know what the advantages and disadvantages are for registering your PFA in that state, and help you through the process if you decide to do so.

To find a domestic violence advocate or an attorney in the state you are moving to, see our Advocates and Shelters and Finding a Lawyer pages.

Do I need to tell the court in Pennsylvania if I move?

Yes, if you won’t be getting mail at your old address. The court that gave you your protection from abuse order (PFA) needs to have an up-to-date address for you at all times. That’s because they will communicate with you only by mail if anything happens to your protective order. For example, if the abuser asks the court to dismiss the order, or if your order is changed in any way, the court will send you a letter letting you know. If you will not be receiving mail at your old address, you must provide the court with a new address where you can receive mail. If you are a participant in PA’s address confidentiality program, you must tell the Office of the Victim Advocate about your change of address within 5 days of the change.1

If you provide your new address to the court, you can request that it be kept confidential. If you do so, it will be kept in a confidential part of your file, and the court will order law enforcement agencies, human service agencies, and school districts not to give out the information.2

However, your new address may be released to court officials in your new state, or to law enforcement officials in either Pennsylvania or your new state. If you feel unsafe giving the court your new address, you can use the address of a friend you trust or a P.O. Box instead.

1 23 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 6705(b)(6); 6706(a)(2)
2 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6112

Enforcing custody provisions in another state

I was granted temporary custody with my PFA. Can I take my kids out of the state?

Maybe. It may depend on the exact wording of the custody provision in your PFA. You may have to first seek the permission of the court before leaving. If the abuser was granted visitation rights with your children, then you may have to have the order changed, or show the court that there is a fair and realistic alternative to the current visitation schedule. To read more about custody laws in Pennsylvania see our PA Custody page.

If you are unsure about whether or not you can take your kids out of the state, it is important to talk to a domestic violence advocate or lawyer who understands domestic violence and custody laws, and can help you make the safest decision for you and your children. You can find contact information for local domestic violence organizations and legal assistance in the Pennsylvania area on our PA Places that Help page.

I was granted temporary custody with my PFA. Will another state enforce this custody order?

Yes. Custody, visitation, and child support provisions that are included in a PFA can be enforced across state lines. Federal law requires courts and law enforcement officials in other states to enforce these provisions.1

1 18 U.S.C. § 2266

Enforcing Your Out-Of-State Order in Pennsylvania

If you are planning to move to Pennsylvania or are going to be in Pennsylvania for any reason, your out-of-state protection order may be enforceable.

General rules for out-of-state orders in Pennsylvania

Can I get my protection order enforced in Pennsylvania? What are the requirements?

Yes.  Your protection order can be enforced in Pennsylvania as long as:

  • It was issued to prevent violent or threatening acts, harassing behavior, sexual violence, or it was issued to prevent another person from coming near you or contacting you.1
  • The court that issued the order had jurisdiction over the people and case.  (In other words, the court had the authority to hear the case).
  • The abuser received notice of the order and had an opportunity to go to court to tell his/her side of the story.  It doesn’t matter if he actually showed up in court; just that he had the opportunity to do so.
    • In the case of temporary ex parte and emergency orders, the abuser must receive notice and have an opportunity to go to court to tell his/her side of the story at a hearing that is scheduled within a “reasonable time” after the order is issued.2

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.

1 18 U.S.C. § 2266(5)(A)
2 18 U.S.C. § 2265(a) & (b)

Can I have my out-of-state protection order changed, extended, or canceled in Pennsylvania?

No.  Only the state that issued your protection order can change, extend, or cancel the order.  You cannot have this done by a court in Pennsylvania.

To have your order changed, extended, or canceled, you will have to file a motion or petition in the court where the order was issued.  You may be able to request that you attend the court hearing by telephone rather than in person, so that you do not need to return to the state where the abuser is living.  To find out more information about how to modify an out-of-state restraining order, see the Restraining Orders page for the state where your order was issued.

If your order does expire while you are living in Pennsylvania, you may be able to get a new one issued in Pennsylvania but this may be difficult to do if no new incidents of abuse have occurred in Pennsylvania.  To find out more information on how to get a protective order in Pennsylvania, visit our Protection from Abuse Orders (PFA) page.

I was granted temporary custody with my out-of-state protection order. Will I still have temporary custody of my children in PA?

Yes.  As long as the child custody provision complies with certain federal laws,1 Pennsylvania can enforce a temporary custody order that is a part of a protection order.

To have someone read over your order and tell you if it meets these standards, contact a lawyer in your area.  To find a lawyer in your area click here PA Finding a Lawyer.

1 The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJA) or the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), and the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act of 1980.

Registering your out-of-state order in Pennsylvania

If I don’t have a hard copy of my out-of-state order, how can law enforcement enforce it?

To enforce an out-of-state order, law enforcement typically may rely on the National Crime Information Center Protection Order File (NCIC-POF). The NCIC-POF is a nationwide, electronic database that contains information about orders of protection that were issued in each state and territory in the U.S. The Protection Order File (POF) contains court orders that are issued to prevent acts of domestic violence, or to prevent someone from stalking, intimidating, or harassing another person. It contains orders issued by both civil and criminal state courts. The types of protection orders issued and the information contained in them vary from state to state.1

There is no way for the general public to access the NCIC-POF. That means you cannot confirm a protection order is in the registry or add a protection order to the registry without the help of a government agency that has access to it.

Typically, the state police or criminal justice agency in the state has the responsibility of reporting protection orders to NCIC. However, in some cases, the courts have taken on that role and they manage the protection order reporting process.2 NCICPOF is used by law enforcement agencies when they need to verify and enforce an out-of-state protection order. It is managed by the FBI and state law enforcement officials.

However, not all states routinely enter protection orders into the NCIC. Instead, some states may enter the orders only in their own state protection order registry, which would not be accessible to law enforcement in other states. According to a 2016 report by the National Center for State Courts, more than 700,000 protection orders that were registered in state protection order databases were not registered in the federal NCIC Protection Order File.2 This means that if a law enforcement officer is trying to enforce a protection order from another state that is missing from the NCIC, the victim would likely need to show the officer a hard copy of the order to get it immediately enforced. If you no longer have a copy of your original order, you may want to contact the court that issued the order to ask them how you can get another copy sent to you.

1 National Center for Protection Orders and Full Faith & Credit
2 See State Progress in Record Reporting for Firearm-Related Background Checks: Protection Order Submissions, prepared by the National Center for State Courts, April 2016

How do I register my protection order in Pennsylvania?

To register your protection order in Pennsylvania, you must get a certified copy1 of your protection order from the court that issued it and then file it with the prothonotary in the county where you are living or staying.  There is no fee for registering your out-of-state order in Pennsylvania.

Once your order is registered, the prothonotary will give a copy of your order to the Pennsylvania State Police, and it will then be registered in the Pennsylvania State Police registry of protection orders.2

If you need help registering your protection order, you can contact a local domestic violence organization in Pennsylvania for assistance. You can find contact information for organizations in your area on our PA Places that Help page.

1 Defined in 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6102
2 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6104(d)(1)-(2)

Do I have to register my protection order in Pennsylvania in order to get it enforced?

No. Pennsylvania state law does not require you to file your out-of-state protection order in order to get it enforced.1 Pennsylvania gives full protection to an out-of-state protection order and will enforce it as if it were issued by a court in Pennsylvania. Police officers in Pennsylvania are supposed to assume that your out-of-state protection order is real, unless a court says otherwise.2

1 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6104(d)(3)
2 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6105(h)

Will the abuser be notified if I register my out-of-state protection order?

Under the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which applies to all U.S. states and territories, the court is not permitted to notify the abuser when a protective order has been registered or filed in a new state unless you specifically request that the abuser be notified.1  However, you may wish to confirm that the clerk is aware of this law before registering the order if your address is confidential.

However, remember that there may be a possibility that the abuser could somehow find out what state you have moved to.  It is important to continue to safety plan, even if you are no longer in the state where the abuser is living.  We have some safety planning tips to get you started on our Staying Safe page.  You can also contact a local domestic violence organization to get help in developing a personalized safety plan.  You will find contact information for organizations in your area on our PA Advocates and Shelters page.

1 18 USC § 2265(d)

What if I don't register my protection order? Will it be more difficult to have it enforced?

If you don’t register your order, it should not be any more difficult to get your order enforced.  Neither federal law1 nor state law2 requires that you register your protection order in order to get it enforced.  Pennsylvania law says that police officers must enforce an out-of-state protective order as if it were issued in Pennsylvania, and that only a court can declare an out-of-state protective order to be invalid.3

If you are unsure about whether registering your order is the right decision for you, you may want to contact a local domestic violence organization in your area.  An advocate there can help you decide what the safest plan of action is for you in Pennsylvania.  To see a list of local domestic violence organizations in Pennsylvania, go to our PA Advocates and Shelters page.

1 18 U.S.C. § 2265(d)(2)
2 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6104(d)(3) & (e)
3 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6105(h)

What is the Pennsylvania State Police registry of protection orders?

The Pennsylvania State Police registry of protection orders is a statewide database that includes all temporary and final protection orders that were issued in Pennsylvania as well as any out-of-state orders that were filed in Pennsylvania. Law enforcement officers and courts can access the registry at any time, but the information is not available to the public.

When your order is issued or filed, the prothonotary will send the information on the order (including the names of the parties, the expiration date of the order, and the specific protections given by the order) to the Pennsylvania State Police registry within 24 hours of the time it is issued or filed. If your order is changed in any way, the prothonotary will send the changes into the registry, and when your order expires, it will be taken out of the registry.1

1 23 C.S. § 6105(e)

Does it cost anything to register my protection order?

No. There is no fee for registering your protection order in Pennsylvania.1

1 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6104(d)(1)