Today is PFA day in Bucks County, PA. Historically, it was evident by the overcrowded and flowing areas of the courthouse. PFAs will now be heard in the new Bucks County Justice Center, but somehow that will not change the fact that is one of the most crowded days in court. A Protection from Abuse starts as a civil action where one person who must meet the relationship requirement under the PFA statute files and accuses another person of abuse, usually physical, but can include stalking, harassment. If you are a Petitioner in Bucks County, you have options to help you file that include a free service offered through the Women’s Place or through Legal Aid. Not only will they assist you with filing your claim, they will also represent you or assign you an attorney in court. They will have someone also accompany you to court so you do not have to go alone and this person will provide support to you. You also have the option of hiring a private attorney who will be devoted exclusively to your case that day. They can assist you by preparing your petition and making sure all the necessary facts are set forth in your petition. You can ask for protection for up to three years and this protection can include absolutely no contact to restricted contact if you have children. While the court can award custody and support as part of a PFA, you should file both those actions separately as well, especially support which will lapse if you do not file for it.
If you are accused of a PFA in Bucks County, PA, you will be served with a Petition setting forth the allegations. Sometimes you will not be served until the night before. One thing is evident, you will have less than a week’s notice to prepare and defend yourself. If you arrive to Court without an attorney, the Bucks County Bar Association will have volunteer defense attorneys ready to assist you in your defense. They will have several cases, not just yours and they will not contact you until the day of the hearing. You have the option of hiring a private attorney to assist you in your defense as well. This attorney, while paid, will be devoted exclusively to your case and will meet with you and talk to you before you court date learning the facts of your case.
While it is true that a Protection from Abuse is a civil action, meaning if the court finds you guilty or you agree without guilt to an order, you are not going to jail. Some people are of the thought that since they do not want to talk to the other side anyway, it may be a good idea to just agree to a stay away order. In my opinion, that can be a very serious mistake. An agreed order has the same enforcement remedies as an order entered after a trial. While a Protection from Abuse is a very necessary remedy for people who are harassed, it is also a very abused area of the law. Oftentimes, skilled petitioners use it to gain leverage in a custody matter or use it for vindictiveness. Having a private attorney will help you sort this out to the Judge who is aware and looks for these motives. In those cases, it would be a mistake to agree thinking it is only civil. The reality is that any violation of a Protection from Abuse order becomes a criminal matter. It is also a public record and can affect your rights to possess a weapon during the period of time you are under an order. Depending on your job, it can also affect your security clearance. If you are foreigner, it can lead to deportation. Before you agree to anything, you need to understand all the ramifications that could occur.