People abused by an intimate partner, or who have a reasonable fear of that abuse, can ask for a court order keep the abuse from contacting them. In Pennsylvania, the order is called a Protection From Abuse (PFA).

Domestic abuse can take many forms and can involve particularly complex issues during divorce. Occasionally, someone makes false accusations to gain an advantage in the proceedings. Often, abuse may have contributed to the separation, or a decision to divorce can be a spark to violence.

Who is bound by a PFA?

First, a person is bound by a PFA if a court orders one against them. Complying with a PFA is not optional. Violators are commonly arrested, detained and prosecuted for the violation.

The law specifies a variety of relationships where a PFA can apply. They include current or former intimate partners or spouses, people with a child together, a parent or child or sibling, someone who lives in the same dwelling and others.

What does the PFA do?

The specific conditions of a PFA can depend on the circumstances. They can do any of the following and more.

  • Make the person move out, often by retrieving their possessions under police escort.
  • Prevent all contact with the victim in person or with any medium or device.
  • Order the person to surrender all firearms to the police.
  • Grant child custody and payments of child and spousal support.

A PFA is meant to be an emergency measure and does not last forever, but it can last for several years.

How does the court know the accusation is true?

The granting of a PFA can significantly impact other divorce court decisions about child custody, child support, property division, spousal support and more. Courts will likely take granting a PFA very seriously and will not tolerate any attempt to use them as unwitting players in a family feud.

Whether seeking a protection order or trying to influence the terms of one, arguments can be presented to ensure a reasonable outcome. When the court considers granting a longer-term order, called a Final Protection Order (FPO), both sides can make more detailed arguments.