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.
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.
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
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
When do you get a
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
What help or
protections are available under the Act?
The court may grant any of the
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
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
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
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
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 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
In Allegheny County, call the
Womens Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, (412) 687-8005.
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