Domestic Violence FAQ
Note: The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.
If you are subjected to an assault or threats of violence by your partner, common sense compels you to immediately get away and/or call the police. Your immediate safety must be your first concern. Once you are removed from the threat or the threat is removed from you, then it is time to consider the legal remedies that may be available to you.
What can the police do if I call them?
A police officer can arrest a person on the spot if the police officer has reason to believe that the person has intentionally caused injury to his/her spouse or other person with whom he/she resides or formerly resided or if that person has placed the victim in danger of serious injury or death. The police officer can make this arrest even if the officer did not witness the act in question. But, the officer cannot immediately make the arrest unless the officer observes a recent physical injury or there is other evidence that corroborates the happening of the act.
The police officer is also required to seize all weapons used in the commission of the offense.
If my domestic partner is arrested will he/she be released on bail?
The arrested person may be considered for bail, but a determination as to whether or not the defendant poses a threat of danger to the victim must be made. If that is found to be the case, a condition of bail will be for the defendant to stay away from your residence and place of employment and to commit no further criminal acts against you. These conditions will remain in effect until the defendant’s preliminary hearing on criminal charges or until an order is entered pursuant to the Protection From Abuse Act. If the condition of bail is violated, the defendant may be arrested and placed in custody.
What else can the police do for me?
The police will notify you of the availability of a domestic violence shelter in your community and its hotline phone number. They will also advise you of your right to file a petition for protection from abuse.
Under what circumstances can I file a petition for protection from abuse?
A petition may be filed when abuse occurs between family or household members, sexual or intimate partners or persons who are the biological parents of a child or children.
What constitutes abuse for the purpose of filing a petition for protection from abuse?
There are five categories of abuse defined by statute.
1. Attempting to cause or intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing bodily injury, serious bodily injury, rape, spousal sexual assault or involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with or without a deadly weapon;
2. Placing another person in fear of imminent serious bodily injury;
3. Subjecting another person to false imprisonment;
4. Physically or sexually abusing minor child(ren); and
5. Knowingly engaging in a course of conduct or repeatedly committing acts towards another person including following the person under circumstances which place the person in reasonable fear of bodily injury.
If I leave my home to get away from the threat, do I waive my right to file a petition for protection from abuse?
Who can file a petition for protection from abuse?
An adult or an emancipated minor (living on their own) may file on behalf of themselves. When children are the victims of the abuse, the petition may be filed by a parent, adult household member or guardian appointed by the Court.
How quickly can I get court ordered protection?
You may be eligible for temporary relief the same day that your petition is filed. If you allege immediate and present danger of abuse, the Court will conduct a hearing even though the defendant may not be present. The Court may enter an order which grants you immediate relief for a period of up to 10 days. Within that 10 day period a hearing will be scheduled before the Court at which the defendant has the right to be present and to be represented by a lawyer. In order to be entitled to further relief, you must present evidence to prove the allegations of abuse at that hearing.
If the court finds that I have been the victim of abuse, what relief can the court grant?
The court may enter an order or the parties may reach a consent agreement that includes some or all of the following:
1. Ordering the defendant to stop abusing you or your minor child(ren);
2. Evicting the defendant from your residence if the residence is owned or leased by you and the defendant jointly or by you in your name alone;
3. Even if the residence is owned or leased by the defendant in the defendant’s name alone, the defendant may still be evicted and possession of the residence granted to you if the defendant owes you or the child(ren) living in the residence financial support;
4. The Court may award temporary custody of the child(ren) to you and award temporary visitation to the defendant. However, the defendant will not be given any visitation rights or visitation may be strictly supervised if the Court finds that the defendant abused the child(ren);
5. The Court may enter an order for your financial support against the defendant. The order will be temporary. It may include requirements to provide health insurance coverage, to pay for unreimbursed medical expenses, and to make rent or mortgage payments. If you do not file a formal complaint for support within two weeks, the temporary order will be invalidated;
6. The Court may prohibit the defendant from having any contact with you or your minor child(ren) and may restrain the defendant from entering your place of employment or business or school of your child(ren) and may prohibit the defendant from harassing you, your relatives or your child(ren);
7. The Court may order the defendant to give to the sheriff any weapons which have been used or threatened to be used in an incident of abuse against you or your child(ren). It may also prohibit the defendant from acquiring or possessing any other weapons during the course of the order.
8. The Court may require the defendant to reimburse you for some or all of the following expenses incurred as a result of the abuse:
a. medical or dental expenses;
b. moving or relocation expenses;
c. counseling fees;
d. loss of earnings;
e. out of pocket losses for injuries; and
f. attorney’s fees.
9. The Court may direct the defendant to refrain from stalking or harassing you; or
10. The Court may grant any other appropriate relief sought by you.
How long does the order last?
A protection order or approved consent agreement is entered for a fixed time up to three years.
Who will be notified that I have obtained the order?
You can file the order with the Court in any county where you believe enforcement may be necessary. Also, the Court shall send official notice of the order to the Pennsylvania State Police within 24 hours of its entry. The Pennsylvania State Police records will be available to law enforcement personnel and courts at all times. The law also requires that the local police departments who may be required to enforce the order are to be provided with copies of the order.
What will happen to the defendant if he/she violates the protection from abuse order?
There are three options available to you if the order is violated:
1. The most immediate is for you to summon the police. If the defendant violates the order, a police officer can arrest the defendant even if the police officer did not witness the violation. The police officer will also confiscate any weapons used in the violation. The defendant will then be taken to a court and charged with indirect criminal contempt (willful disobedience of a lawful Order of Court outside the presence of the Court). If the defendant is ultimately convicted of the charge, the defendant may be imprisoned for up to six months and/or fined up to $1,000.00.
2. Without immediate police involvement, you may elect to file a private criminal complaint against the defendant alleging indirect criminal contempt for the violation of any non-economic provision of the order. The complaint is filed at the office of the local district magistrate, the county court, or the district attorney’s office.
3. You may elect to file with the Court that issued the order a petition seeking to hold the defendant in civil contempt for the violation of any provision of the order whether that provision is economic or not. If the Court finds that the defendant has willfully violated the order, the court may find the defendant in civil contempt. Punishment for such contempt may include imprisonment until the defendant complies with the order or sufficiently demonstrates an intent to comply. But the imprisonment may not exceed six months.
Can the order for protection from abuse be extended?
Yes, it can. If you file a petition after entry of the initial order and allege that the defendant has committed additional abuse after the original order or that the defendant has engaged in a pattern of conduct that indicates a continued risk of harm to you or your child(ren), then the order may be extended. The order may be repeatedly extended if necessary.
From representation in family law matters with related issues involving domestic violence, I offer legal advice directed to your specific situation and needs. Contact my office online or call 866-942-0074 to schedule a complimentary 30 minute consultation to discuss your concerns today. My office, located near the Allegheny Valley exit of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and the Harmarville exit of the Route 28 Expressway, provides a convenient environment in which to discuss your family law needs.