According to many studies, rising temperatures correlate to an increase of aggressive crime, especially domestic violence and non-aggravated assaults – attacks involving no weapon and no serious injury. There are many reasons that this may be the case – perhaps when it is cold people choose to “hibernate” whereas in the summer, more people are out and therefore have the opportunity to commit or be the victim of a crime. It may also be that in the spirit of vacation and celebration more alcohol and drugs are consumed which in turn may lead to dangerous situations. While it is difficult to pinpoint the reason for the correlation between an increase in domestic violence and the heat, there is no denying that the correlation exists.

As we are in the prime of summer, it is important to understand what protection may be available to victims of domestic violence.

A Protection from Abuse (PFA) Order is a civil order, which a person may file on behalf of themselves or a family member. A PFA Order is not available to all victims of abuse (or all those trying to protect victims from abuse).  PFA Orders are only available to those seeking protection against an abuser who is a spouse or former spouse (or an abuser with whom they live/lived as a spouse), a parent, a child, another related person, or a current or former intimate partner.  As such, PFA Orders are not available to unrelated persons who are not in an intimate relationship – such as roommates or strangers.

Only certain types of abuse are addressed by a PFA proceeding. The specific types of abuse which can be addressed in PFA proceedings are as follows:

  1. Physical Abuse: bodily injury, 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.
  2. Fear of Imminent Physical Abuse;
  3. False Imprisonment;
  4. Physical or Sexual Abuse of Minor Children;
  5. Stalking/Harassment: a course of conduct or repeated acts, such as following a person, under circumstances which place the person in reasonable fear of physical abuse.

In Pennsylvania, a victim may seek a PFA Order either in the county in which the victim lives (temporarily or permanently), the county in which the victim works, the county in which the defendant may be served (usually where the defendant lives or works) or the county in which the abuse occurred. However, if the relief sought by the victim includes exclusive possession of a joint home, then the action must be brought in the county in which the home is located.

In order to commence a PFA action a Petition for PFA must be filed. Many counties have victims advocate groups available to assist in the filing out of these petitions. In the Petition, the victim should allege the abuse that has occurred most recently and specifically include any additional acts of abuse which may have occurred previously. The victim should also explain what relief they are seeking. The relief sought may include:

  1. For the abuser to have no contact with the victim or his/her family;
  2. Prohibiting the abuser from threatening, abusing, harassing or stalking the victim or his/her family;
  3. Exclusive possession of the victim’s joint home/Eviction of the abuser;
  4. That the victim’s new contact information be kept confidential;
  5. Temporary custody of the victim’s children;
  6. Temporary child support;
  7. Temporary spousal support/alimony pendente lite;
  8. Reimbursement of out of pocket expenses that were the result of the abusive acts of the abuser;
  9. Relinquishment of any weapons in the abuser’s possession;
  10. For other special relief such as the exchange of certain property like cars, keys, important documents and pets.

Upon completion of the Petition, the victim will wait to be heard by a Judge who will read the Petition and ask questions of the victim. The Judge will then decide whether to grant or deny the Petition on a temporary basis. Should the Judge grant the Petition, the Defendant will have to be served with the Petition and the Temporary PFA Order and a hearing will be scheduled within ten (10) days.

At the hearing, the victim will be expected to present evidence (whether by his or her own testimony, photographs, police reports, medical records or other witnesses) that the abuse alleged in his/her Petition occurred and that a Final PFA Order should be granted. The Defendant will then be given the opportunity to cross examine all witnesses and provide evidence of his/her own as to why no final PFA should be granted.

The Court may grant a Final PFA Order, which lasts up to three (3) years.

There are also many other legal options victims may pursue as they seek to protect themselves from an abuser such as mutual agreed “stay away” orders under a divorce caption, exclusive possession orders under a divorce caption, criminal charges and more.

It is important that you talk to an experienced family law attorney about the particular circumstances of your case in the event you are a victim of domestic violence or find yourself accused of domestic violence.