Tag Archive for: protection from abuse

This weekend many will be celebrating Valentine’s Day with their loved ones. Cards and gifts are exchanged to express love and friendship. February 14th also marks V-Day: a global activist movement to end violence against women. This movement started in 1998 and has raised millions of dollars in addition to bringing awareness of the issue of violence against women on an international scale. Pennsylvania recently enacted the Protection from Sexual Violence and/or Intimidation Act (PSVI). The Act allows victims to obtain a civil no-contact order for up to three (3) years on the basis of sexual violence.

In addition to the Protection available under the PSVI, Pennsylvania has the Protection from Abuse (PFA) Act which also 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 (e.g. spouse or former spouse, parent of child with Defendant, current or former intimate partner or family member of the Defendant). The PSVI Act does not restrict protection based on relationship of the parties involved. Violation of either a PFA or PSVI Order can carry criminal consequences. A Woman’s Place is a domestic violence organization based in Bucks County that serves as an invaluable resource to victims of domestic violence.

Click here to find out more about A Woman’s Place.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention month. The goal is to raise awareness in respect to preventing abuse, reducing the risk of abuse and promoting healthy families. The Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health sponsors the annual awareness campaign. The first Child Abuse Prevention week was recognized in 1982. It extended to an entire month of awareness the following year in 1983. The theme continues to be “Making Meaningful Connections” to promote familial and community relationships as a support system to reduce abuse.

The national website at www.childwelfare.gov includes resources with practical tips for parents on preventing abuse. Topic areas include how to make healthy connections, how to feed your family, how to manage finances, and how to identify risk factors and protect against them.

Information specific to Pennsylvania is available on at www.preventchildabusepa.org  All 50 states have a chapter of Prevent Child Abuse america with Pennsylvania’s chapter being chartered in 2010. If abuse is suspected a report should immediately be made to the local police department and the ChildLine hotline at 1-800-932-0313. A Protection From Abuse filing may also be pursued by the parent or caretaker.

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As detrimental as it is to the children of a separation or a divorce, sometimes one parent chooses to withhold the children from the other parent. They may feel they are the better parent and are protecting the children. They may just be angry and want to use the children as pawns to get back at the other parent. They may feel they have the right to determine the custody schedule for various reasons. Regardless of why a parent is withholding the children and keeping them from the other parent it is not something that either parent should take into their own hands. If you are the parent who is not seeing your children, you need to immediately file for emergency custody in the county where the children reside if they have been there for at least six months. If the children have not bee in that state or county for six months, then you need to file emergency relief in the state or county where they last resided for six months. If your ex moved out of state with the children less than six months prior, you will want to also seek relief that includes returning the children to the state, and possibly alerting the authorities if the other parent did not disclose their whereabouts. Waiting to file with the court can impact your case as the court will question why something was not done sooner. In addition, you should record all attempts that you make to contact the children both before and after you file. This could be text messages, letters sent to the house, phone calls made, and attempts to visit. You should be careful, however, in remaining calm as sometimes the other parent will then allege harassment or file a Protection from Abuse in an attempt to further gain control in custody. As difficult as it will be waiting to get into court, the sooner you file the sooner the court can remedy the situation.

If you are parent withholding, you should very careful that there is a legitimate reason which usually is only in the event the child is in serious physical bodily harm. In the event that you have chosen to withhold, the court will look at attempts to alienate the other parent as a factor in deciding to whom to award custody. If you feel your child is being abused, you should contact the Child Service Protective agency in your area to conduct an investigation as well as quickly file your petition for custody. Withholding out of spite or under the belief that you are the better parent can not only have serious consequences in the custody schedule that ultimately gets decided but can do serious damage to your children. Children should never be placed in the center of a custody dispute. The Courts favor a relationship with both parents, and in circumstances where it is warranted will place one parent under supervision.

Under the Protection from Abuse Act, a Court can, as part of the order granting a protection from abuse, also issue terms on custody of the minor children as part of that order.A Protection from Abuse order can be granted in Pennsylvania for up to three years. If an order includes a provision for custody, this does not mean that the other parent will not get to see the children for three years. If an order is entered that contains custody provisions, it is very important if the order is entered against you that you file for custody through the Family Court in the county where the Child resides. The Court in Family Court will determine custody and the terms of that custody order will override the terms in the Protection from Abuse Order. Likewise, if you receive a Child Support order as part of a Protection from Abuse Order, you must file for child support within two weeks in order to continue to receive child support. You file for child support at Domestic Relations. As long as you file for child support within the two week period, you will continue to receive support under the PFA order until Domestic Relations has its hearing and enters a new child support order. If you fail to file in the two week period then the child support in the PFA will terminate and you will not get support until you file and have a hearing through Domestic Relations.

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.

The Superior Court of Pennsylvania recently made a decision that will change how Protection from Abuse (PFA) cases will proceed. Previously, as a matter of practice, a PFA petition once filed would be reviewed by the Judge and then a decision could be made as to whether a temporary PFA order was warranted pending a final hearing just based on review of the petition. In Ferko-Fox v. Fox, 2013 PA Super 88 (2013), the Superior Court ruled that the practice of granting temporary orders in this fashion does not meet the requirements of due process as required by the PFA statute. Specifically, 23 Pa. C.S. 6107 (b) requires the court to conduct an ex parte hearing prior to determining if a temporary order is warranted.

Based on the Fox decision which demands strict compliance with the PFA statute, a person seeking a PFA will be required to go before a Judge after filing the petition in order for a brief hearing to be held. This is required in order to safeguard the defendant’s due process rights. According to the Superior Court, those due process rights are not met unless the court takes the time to question the moving party as to the truth of their petition. Arguably, having the moving party appear before a Judge and be sworn in reduces the likelihood that they will make exaggerated or false allegations of abuse. Additionally, the hearing gives the Judge the opportunity to view the demeanor of the moving party and determine his or her credibility as well as see first-hand any physical evidence of abuse. The only exception the court will recognize to this requirement of an ex parte hearing is if there are exigent circumstances and the moving party is unable to appear.

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A party may file a Protection from Abuse petition in the event of abuse, meaning physical violence or the threat thereof as well as stalking or any other course of conduct which would place a person in fear of bodily injury. A Protection from Abuse (PFA) petition requires the petitioner to identify the defendant, state the incidents constituting the “abuse” as well as any prior history of similar incidents, provide notice of any weapons involved, and set out the relief requested. Depending on the nature and severity of the allegations, a temporary PFA order may be put in place almost immediately to prohibit contact between the parties until a full hearing can be held. Often a hearing will be held in approx. 7-10 days if not sooner. The petitioner must ensure the Defendant is served with the Petition, Notice of Hearing and temporary order, if applicable, prior to the hearing. The local sheriff can be contacted to effectuate the service.

At the hearing, the party pursuing a PFA order must establish by a preponderance of the evidence that some “abuse”, as defined above, occurred. A preponderance of the evidence means more likely than not. Remedies for a successful PFA petition can include having the Defendant removed from a residence that was previously shared, restrictions on contact for up to 3 years, either directly or indirectly, relinquishment of firearms or other weapons, reimbursement for related expenses or out of pocket costs suffered, temporary support, and in some cases, a custody schedule. It is possible to list multiple persons in need of protection under a single PFA petition including children, if applicable. Violations of PFA result in criminal charges depending on the nature of the violation.

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