October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Next week, October 16th – 22nd, is the week of action. You can visit www.nnedv.org for details on the daily initiatives. Thursday, October 20th, is purple Thursday and people are encouraged to wear purple to raise awareness. Pennsylvania has several laws in place to protect victims of domestic violence.

The Protection from Abuse (PFA) Act provides a civil remedy in the form of a stay away order. The PFA Act can only be utilized if there is a certain relationship between the victim and the offender; specifically, family or household members, sexual or intimate partners, or persons who share biological parenthood. Abuse under the PFA Act includes causing or attempting to cause bodily injury, rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, sexual assault, placing another in fear of imminent serious bodily injury, infliction of false imprisonment, physically or sexually abusing minor children, and stalking in the sense of engaging in a course of conduct which place a person in reasonable fear of bodily injury. Three years is the maximum length of a PFA Order. Violations of a PFA Order can carry criminal violations.

Pennsylvania’s Protection from Sexual Violence and/or Intimidation Act (PSVI) is another civil remedy that allows victims to obtain a civil no-contact order for up to three (3) years. Adults and minors can petition for an Order on the basis of sexual violence. Only minors may obtain an Order on the basis of intimidation provided the offender is over 18 years old. There is no filing fee to file. A temporary Order can be granted following an ex parte hearing. A final hearing must be held within ten (10) days of when the Petition is filed. The victim must establish sexual violence and/or intimidation by a preponderance of the evidence. The PSVI Act does not restrict protection based on relationship of the parties involved. Sexual violence for purposes of the PSVI Act includes but is not limited to rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, sexual assault, indecent exposure, and unlawful dissemination of an intimate image. Violation of a PSVI Order can also carry criminal consequences.

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Equitable distribution is the term used in Pennsylvania referring to division of marital property at the time of divorce. Marital property will consist of nearly everything acquired in either party’s name from the date of marriage through to the date of separation. Equitable distribution does not necessarily mean a 50/50 split of all marital property. Instead, the statute on equitable distribution sets out 13 factors to be considered. In any divorce involving equitable distribution, the parties are tasked with identifying all the property to be considered. Specifically, Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1920.33 discusses the requirement of each party filing an Inventory. The Inventory should list all marital assets and debts at issue. An Inventory must be filed prior to requesting a hearing on equitable distribution. Further, if you are served an Inventory first, you have twenty (20) days to file your own Inventory. In this regard, it is certainly helpful to have some understanding of what you and your spouse have prior to filing for divorce. You can supplement the list of marital property if you do not have knowledge of all the assets and debts at the outset.

The second part of Rule 1920.33 goes over the requirements for a pre-hearing statement. This statement is to be prepared when your case is ready to go to court on equitable distribution. Again, you will list all marital assets and debts. However, by this stage in the divorce you should have gathered all the information you need and be able to provide more detail regarding the assets, debts and their values or balances. Corroborating documentation should be attached to the pre-hearing statement as exhibits. Pre-hearing statements should be filed at least sixty (60) days prior to a scheduled equitable distribution hearing. The court does have the ability to impose sanctions for failure to file these forms as directed by the rules. It is important to work with an experienced family law attorney when dealing with equitable distribution matters to ensure all marital property is identified and subsequently submitted to the court in a timely fashion.

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