What Should I Know About Protection From Abuse?

The Protection From Abuse Act is a civil law designed to protect against abuse. The Act was put into effect in 1976 by the Pennsylvania State Legislature.

What is Abuse?

Under the Protection From Abuse Act, abuse is defined as ANY of the following:

* Attempting to cause or intentionally or recklessly causing bodily injury, serious bodily injury, rape, spousal sexual assault or involuntary deviate sezual intercourse with or without a deadly weapon.
* Placing another, by physical menace, in fear of serious bodily injury.
* False imprisonment, as defined under the crimes code.
* Physically or sexually abusing minor children.

Please note that the law does not cover emotional or mental abuse.

Who can file?

You can file for protection under the Act if the abuser is or was your spouse, is of was living with you in a common-law marriage or as your boyfriend/girlfriend, is the parent of your child, is your child, is related to you by blood or marriage, is a current of former sexual or intimate partner, or is a person who shares biological parenthood with you.

How and where do you file for a protection order?

An adult or emancipated minor can file for legal help. If the victim is a minor child, then a parent or adult household member can ask for help on behalf of an abused child.

Legal papers can be filed with the Court of Common Pleas at the county courthouse. You do not have to have a lawyer to file the papers to ask for protection. The court must provide an abused person with simple forms in English and Spanish. Clerks working for the court must assist you with filing the papers, if you ask for assistance.

When do you get a protection order?

After the abused person fills in the court forms, you may go before a judge and ask the court for a temporary (short-term) protection order. If the judge decides that you have been abused, he will give you a written court order, telling the abuser that he is not to abuse you again and perhaps telling him/her that they must leave and stay away from your home. The court order will also tell him/her that if they abuse you again, they may go to jail or pay a fine. Once the abused person has a temporary order, the police can arrest the abuser if he breaks the terms of the order.

How does the abuser learn about the protection order?

The abuser must be given a copy of the protection order. If the abused person believes it is too dangerous for him/her or a family member to give the court order to the abuser, the court can order the sheriff or any other law enforcement agency to serve the papers and the order on the abuser.

The court costs to file and serve the papers and order on the abuser can be waived if the abused person cannot pay the cost. You must fill out a form stating that you do not have enough money to pay the court fees. The court will decide later who must pay the cost for the protection order. The court will usually tell the abuser that he must pay these.

When do you get the final protection order?

A hearing must be set on a day within 10 days from the date on which the papers were filed or the judge gave you a temporary order. At the hearing the abused person must prove that the abuse occurred in order for the court to enter a final protection order.

What help or protections are available under the Act?

The court may grant any of the following:

1. The abuser can be driected to refrain from abusing you and/or your children.
2. The abuser may be ordered to stay away from the house or apartment where you live, even if that is their home.
3. In addition to staying away from your home, tha abuser can be ordered to stay away from your school or place of employment and told not to harass you or your relatives.
4. The court can award you temporary custody of your children.
5. The abuser can be ordered to give his weapons to the sheriff if they were used or threatened to be used during the abuse.
6. The court may grant you temporary support for yourself and/or the children of the abuser.
7. The abuser can be oredered to pay you back for losses resulting from the abuse. These could include medical, dental, relocation, moving and counseling costs, as well as loss of earnings or support and other out-of-pocket losses. Attorney fees may also be ordered.
8. Any order entered by the court can be made for a period of up to one year.

What help can an abused person receive at night or on the weekend?

If the courthouse is closed or a judge is unavailable, then papers may be filed before a District Justice. If the District Justice believes it is necessary to protect an abused person from abuse, he or she may award a protection order. Any order of a District Justice will last for a short time. The District Justice will tell you how to get a final protection order at the courthouse.

Can you be protected in another county?

When an abused person asks for protection in another county in Pennsylvania, the courts and police must cooperate. If you want protection in another county (for example where you work or visit with your parents) then you must take a certified (raised seal) order of the court of the first county to the civil court clerk (Prothonotary) in the second county. The Prothonotary's office in the second county will provide you with proof that the order is registered and in effect in the second county. It is up to you, then, to send a copy of the registered order to the county police registry in the second county so that police will enforce the order.

There is a cost for registering protection orders in a second county, unless the court excuses the payment of the fee.

Contempt - What if the protection order is violated?

1. A police office can arrest an abuser for a violation of a protection order, even if he does not see it, if the officer believes that the violation may have happened.
2. After an arrest, the police officer must take all weapons used or threatened to be used during the violation of the protection order or during prior incidents of abuse.
3. An abuser charged with the contempt of a protection order can also face criminal charges for the acts committed in violation of the order.
4. The court can find an abuser in contempt and punish him if he violates a protection order. A hearing must be held to find out if the abuser has violated a protection order.
5. An abuser found in contempt can be placed in jail for up to six months and/or fined up to $1000.

What if you start to live with the defendant after entry of a protection order?

Any provision that an abuser must not abuse the victim(s) remains in effect even if the parties start living together again. However, if you want to live with the abuser again, either you or the abuser should file papers with the court asking that court to change the order to read that the abuser may live with the abused, but still must not abuse the victim(s).

Domestic Violence Programs.

Domestic services are offered in every county in Pennsylvania. These include crisis hotlines, safehomes or shelters, legal advocacy, community education, counseling, systems intervention, transportation, as well as information and referral. A domestic violence counselor may be available to help an abused person seek a protection order.

Call your local battered women's hotline. It is available 24 hours/day. All services are confidential.

In Allegheny County, call the Womens Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, (412) 687-8005.

Special Note:

This information has been issued to inform and not to advise. It is based on Pennsylvania law as of the time of printing. The statements are general and individual facts in your case may alter their application or involve other laws not referred to here. For specific legal advice concerning your particular case, contact a lawyer.

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