Steps to Take to File a Restraining Order in Pennsylvania Domestic Violence Cases
Restraining Order in a Pennsylvania Domestic Violence Case
If you're facing physical, sexual, or emotional abuse from a spouse, partner, or any other family member, you have the legal right to put an end to it. An important step to take to end the violence and abuse in your life is to get a restraining order. You have the right to feel safe in your own home. If you have been the victim of domestic violence in Pennsylvania, you can file a "protection from abuse" order.
This civil order can provide you protection from abuse from a family member, parent, sibling, ex-spouse, relative, partner, or person with whom you have a child. Anyone who has feared injury or who has suffered physical harm can seek protection.
For more information, contact the Law Offices of Sheryl R. Rentz, P.C. at (610) 645-0100. We are here to help.
What You Need to Do to Get Protection in Pennsylvania
Here are the steps you need to take to get a protection from abuse order:
It is important to understand that a protection from abuse order (PFA) is a specific type of restraining order that only applies to victims of domestic violence. This means that victims of harassment, stalking, or sexual assault that is committed by a stranger, friend, coworker, or roommate are not eligible to petition for a PFA, but can request a harassment order. PFA’s apply to instances of physical or sexual violence, as well as verbal abuse that includes a threat of “great bodily injury” and the fear that an abuser will follow through on that threat.
To apply for a PFA, you must be 18-years of age or older, or have an adult guardian signature on your application, and have suffered abuse at the hands of a:
- Spouse, including same-sex and domestic partners
- Current or former intimate or sexual partner, including boyfriends/girlfriends
- Any individual related through blood or marriage, including siblings, uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents, and in-laws
PFA’s are free to file and available to any individual who fulfills the above criteria. When you are ready to apply for a PFA, you will need to present a form of identification, such as a driver’s license, passport, or Real ID.
Where you will file may depend on the county you live in. In most cases, you may file in the county where you live, where the abuser lives, or where the abuse occurred. If you need to remove the abuser from your home, you will need to file where your residence is. In Montgomery County, you may request a PFA from the Protection From Abuse Department, which is located on the first floor of the Montgomery County Court House, 2 E. Airy Street, Norristown, PA 19404.
Filing can be done at any time, but there are certain limitations. During normal business hours, you may file at the Court of Common Pleas and request the aid of the local staff. Under normal circumstances, the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas is open Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
However, if the court is closed, such as during a holiday or emergency period, you may still file a temporary order. To do so, you will want to call 911 and ask to be connected with the local Magisterial district court. This emergency order will apply until 5 p.m. on the next day the courthouse is open. To extend the order, you will need to go to the courthouse and petition for a temporary PFA, which will typically last 10 business days, and can be further extended at your court hearing.
To begin the petition process, you will want to:
Step 1: Visit your county courthouse
At the county Court of Common Pleas where you will be filing for the PFA, you can speak to the staff and receive the forms for your petition. The staff can help you fill out these forms and let you know what information you need to provide, but you can also take a copy to an attorney if you have addition questions.
Step 2: Fill out the petition
On the forms, you, the victim, will be referred to as the “plaintiff” while the abuser will be identified as the “defendant.” The forms will require you to explain why you are requesting a PFA, how the abuse occurred, your relationship to the abuser, whether or not the abuser used a weapon, if the abuser has a weapon on their property, and the abuser’s name and address. You may also be required to include a physical description of the abuser, where they work, and if the abuse resulted in monetary losses.
Adult guardians will need to include their names on the form if they are filing on behalf of a minor. Filers may also include any other individual who is seeking protection through the PFA, including children and siblings.
You will want to make two additional copies of the petition.
Step 3: File with the court
If you are filing during normal business hours, the court will schedule a meeting with a judge that day to discuss your case. They may ask additional questions and review your petition. If they grant your petition, you will receive a packet which includes all three copies of the petition as well as Notice of Hearing and Order and Affidavit of Service. You will also receive a temporary ex-parte PFA order which prevents the defendant from contacting, following, or visiting you while it is in effect. An ex-parte PFA lasts until your court hearing, which must be scheduled within ten days.
Step 4: Serve the defendant with a notice of the court hearing
A copy of the petition, notice of hearing and affidavit, and temporary PFA must be served to the defendant. This can be done through the county sheriff’s office. If you requested that the defendant vacate a shared residence, they are required to do so, or they are in violation of the order.
Step 5: Attend the court hearing
Within ten days you will have to attend a court hearing at the courthouse to determine if you will receive a final order. The defendant has the right to attend and make their case. You will be required to explain your petition and why you and/or your children require the PFA. You may present evidence, including photos, videos, or medical reports, and have witnesses testify on your behalf. During this entire process, you do have a right to have an attorney present. If the judge approves the final order, you may receive a final PFA that can last up to three years, with the option to extend it.
Step 6: After the hearing
If you are granted a final order, the court will provide you with a copy of the PFA and you should make additional copies. Keep this order on you at all times and, if the defendant violates the order, contact the police. They are required by Pennsylvania law to arrest any individual who violates a PFA. If you still fear for your safety, please know that the PFA is valid in every part of the United States, including other states and tribal lands, according to the Violence Against Women Act, which is a federal law. Even if you leave Pennsylvania, your PFA will still be valid. You may also speak with your attorney about any local domestic violence advocacy centers, hotlines, and services that may help provide additional resources.
Contact an Experienced Family Law Lawyer in Montgomery County
Restraining orders don't stop every instance of abuse, but they do play a role in domestic violence prevention. They spell out clear penalties for abusers who violate the terms of the agreement and give victims an opportunity to request protection. Some even give victims the right to seek compensation from their abuser for medical bills and lost wages from missing work.
If you or your children are in physical danger, call the authorities right away. If you've suffered abuse and would like protection, DO NOT hesitate to discuss your options with a family law attorney. A restraining order sends a clear message to your abuser that if they get near you, there will be consequences.
You have a right to feel safe in your home, work, or school. Our experienced Montgomery County family law attorneys will help you get that right.
Call the Law Offices of Sheryl R. Rentz, P.C. at (610) 645-0100 for a free confidential consultation.