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Seeking protection from domestic violence

Pennsylvania's Protection from Abuse Act allows domestic violence victims to seek a court order to help protect themselves and their children from a spouse, other family member or an intimate partner, who is committing abuse. However, each county has different procedures for seeking these protection from abuse (PFA) orders.

Generally, a victim files a PFA petition with the local court outlining the abuse and the type of protection being sought. The court will hold a hearing, without the alleged abuser, to review the petition and may ask questions. A judge may grant a temporary PFA and set a hearing date. Or, the judge may deny a temporary PFA and schedule a hearing within 10-business days. The abuser receives copies of the petition and any other documents that are filed.

The judge may issue a final PFA after holding the 10-day hearing. This PFA may remain in effect up to 36 months. But, at this hearing, the judge may request testimony from the victim.

The judge has the power to grant many types of relief. This includes a restraining order, prohibiting the abuser from threatening, abusing, stalking or harassing the victim and the children or from having any contact with them. Courts can also forbid an abuser from contacting them at their work or school.

The judge may also grant temporary child custody to the victim. Courts can grant temporary child or spousal support and out-of-pocket expenses as reimbursement for the abuser's conduct. The abuser may be compelled to return pets, cars, keys and important documents to the victim and to surrender weapons to the sheriff.

A judge may also evict the alleged abuser from a jointly-owned residence or exclude the abuser from the family home. A victim's new address or location may also be kept confidential.

Police may arrest an abuser for violating terms of the PFA, like no-contact provisions. However, police cannot arrest an abuser for violating any of the PFA's orders relating to finances.

It is important to seek guidance from a domestic violence advocate or other professional over safety precautions when these arrests are made. Many times, an abuser may be released after these arrests.

An attorney may be able to assist victims with these types of domestic problems. Legal assistance may help with seeking a PFA or other court remedies to help assure their well-being and the safety of children.

Source: PCADV.org, "The Pennsylvania Protection From Abuse Act," accessed on Sept. 5, 2016

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