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Protection From Abuse actions in Pennsylvania aim to provide a remedy for victims of domestic abuse.
Our attorneys at BOK Law & Mediation Services can assist both plaintiffs and defendants in PFA matters throughout Western Pennsylvania.

In order to obtain a PFA in Pennsylvania, you must have a specific relationship with the defendant, including spouses or former spouses, current or former intimate partners, family members related by blood or marriage, and a parent filing on behalf of minor child in certain circumstances. It is important to understand that you must meet this relationship test before you can obtain a PFA. Even if someone has committed abuse against you, if they don’t fall into one of these categories, the PFA process is not available to you.


There are three types of PFA matters. For urgent situations after-hours, a victim can obtain an emergency PFA. This is typically done through the magistrate’s office after normal business hours or on the weekends. These orders remain in effect until the end of the next business day, so they do not provide long-term protection but can be incredibly helpful in emergency situations to provide safety to victims.


Temporary PFAs are obtained from the court during business hours when court is in session. These Orders remain in effect for up to 10 business days.


For both emergency and temporary PFAs the plaintiff submits an application and explains what behavior led to the filing. If the magistrate or judge believes there is sufficient evidence that abuse occurred they will enter the emergency or temporary order. At these proceedings, the defendant is not present and does not get to tell their side of the story. We call these ex parte proceedings, since only one side participates.


If a temporary PFA is issued, the court will then schedule a final PFA hearing, within 10 business days. At the final hearing, both sides present their case. It is the plaintiff’s burden to show that abuse occurred.


In Pennsylvania, abuse is defined as one of the following:


  • Attempting to cause or intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causing bodily injury or serious bodily injury, rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, sexual assault, statutory sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault, indecent assault or incest with or without a deadly weapon

  • The infliction of false imprisonment

  • Physically or sexually abusing minor children

  • Knowingly engaging in a course of conduct or repeatedly committing acts towards another person, under circumstances which place the person in reasonable fear of bodily injury

  • Placing another in reasonable fear of imminent serious bodily injury


At the final PFA hearing, the plaintiff must prove abuse occurred by a preponderance of the evidence, meaning it is more likely than not. Criminal charges are not required for a PFA to be granted, nor is a plaintiff required to seek medical treatment, though these may aid a plaintiff in proving their case. The defendant will have an opportunity to cross examine witnesses and provide any testimony and evidence supporting their position.


After a hearing, a judge will determine if a final PFA is warranted, and if so, for how long. Final PFAs can be entered for up to 36 months and can include provisions, such as custody, exclusive possession of a residence, no-contact provisions, etc.


In many counties, plaintiffs may receive free legal representation for a final PFA hearing, though some elect to use private counsel. Especially if there are divorce and/or custody issues in play, utilizing the same attorney for all proceedings can provide continuity and stability.


Conversely, defendants are typically not provided legal representation, so if you are facing a final PFA hearing it is critical to speak with an attorney. There can be serious and long-lasting repercussions associated with a final PFA so do not delay in consulting with an attorney.


Whether you are a victim of abuse or alleged to be a perpetrator, our experiences attorneys are prepared to work with you through this process and provide you with all of the tools and resources to move forward.

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