Domestic Violence Resources In Pennsylvania
There is a wealth of resources available in Pennsylvania for victims of domestic violence. A good place to start is the website of the Pennsylvania Coalition against Domestic Violence: www.pcadv.org. They have a directory of local programs, and a hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
In Blair County, there is a local shelter, and a hotline run by the Domestic Abuse Project: 800-500-2849. They offer a support group for victims, and a separate group for perpetrators of abuse, Men Helping Men.
Protection From Abuse Petitions
A Protection From Abuse (PFA) Petition can be filed against a family member, or a person who is or has been a sexual or intimate partner, where there has been abuse. Abuse includes causing, or trying to cause a physical injury, physical or sexual abuse of children, or engaging in a course of conduct that puts causes someone to be in fear of bodily injury.
What constitutes abuse depends on the circumstances, which might include the history of the relationship between the parties. What some refer to as “mental abuse” might not be enough – the statute is focused on conduct that either causes, or places someone in fear of some physical injury. On the other hand, it seems clear that a person does not need to wait until the situation escalates into violence before seeking relief.
A PFA case begins by filing a Petition. Most Counties have assistance available to file a Petition: in Blair County, an individual can contact the PFA Office in the Courthouse, Room 365, (814) 693-0130.
A Judge can issue a temporary order of protection, and a hearing is scheduled within 10 days. The Petition, and any orders are served on the Defendant, usually by the Sheriff’s Office. At the hearing, an agreement may be reached; if there is no agreement, the Judge will listen to testimony, and determine whether the allegations of abuse have been proven.
Orders of Protection can include provisions directing the Defendant to refrain from contacting the you at home, work or school, evicting him (or her) from a shared residence, and making temporary arrangements for child custody and visitation.
A PFA order is a serious legal remedy, intended to remedy a serious problem. Unfortunately, there are some cases where the remedy is used simply as a means of getting an advantage in a child custody or divorce case.
Do I Need a Lawyer for a PFA Case?
A PFA Order can have a significant impact on the individuals involved. It can affect what happens in a custody case, and some aspects of a divorce. A PFA Order can lead to criminal charges, if it is violated, and also impacts your ability to possess a firearm.
Both parties should consult an experienced domestic violence attorney if they are involved in a PFA. The person seeking the Order can usually obtain a lawyer from their local Legal Services Program. Either party can choose to retain a private attorney.
How are Protection From Abuse Orders Enforced?
PFA Orders can be enforced by the police: a criminal charge (Indirect Criminal Contempt) can be filed for any violation of the Order. The person accused of Indirect Criminal Contempt will have a trial before a Judge, and if convicted, can be sentenced to up to 6 months in jail, a fine of up to $1,000.00, or both.
Can a PFA Order Be Rescinded or Modified?
Yes, but only by another court order. Even if the person who obtained the Order agrees, the Order is still in effect unless and until a Judge drops it.
Domestic Violence and Divorce
A PFA Order may have an immediate impact on a Divorce case if, for example, it gives one party possession of the marital residence. But issues of property ownership are not decided by a PFA: any questions of distribution of marital property are decided in the divorce, without regard to why the marriage ended, or who was at fault.
Alimony (support for a spouse, which can continue after a divorce) can be affected by a history of domestic violence. Marital fault is one of the factors which the court must consider in determining whether alimony should be awarded.
Domestic Violence and Child Custody
Child Custody cases are decided separately from Divorce matters. For most purposes, the question of why a marriage failed is not that important when determining what is in the best interests of the children, which is the legal standard for deciding child custody disputes.
The Child Custody Statute requires that the Court consider: “(t)he present and past abuse committed by a party or member of the party’s household, whether there is a continued risk of harm to the child or an abused party and which party can better provide adequate physical safeguards and supervision of the child.” This means that abuse, or a history of abuse, can be considered, whether it is directed toward the other party, or towards the children.