One of the downsides of the technological advances of the internet is that it has given dangerous individuals another way of spreading intimidation and fear, and perhaps led others who might not make such threats in person to feel empowered to do so via email, Facebook, other social media sites, messaging applications, and by other online means. Any experienced family law attorney will sadly report that such cyber bullying – including threats of abuse and violence, whether made implicitly or explicitly – sometimes happen between spouses who are in the process of divorce or potentially headed down that road. Online harassment and stalking are crimes in Pennsylvania, and your local police department should be notified of any illegal behavior by your spouse, but there are also steps you can personally take with the assistance of a family law attorney to fight back against cyber bullying by a spouse to protect your and your children. One primary method is to obtain a temporary protective order (sometimes referred to as a “restraining order”) against your spouse from a Pennsylvania court based on his or her cyber bullying.
When Cyber Bullying Justifies a Protective Order in Pennsylvania
A person may obtain a temporary protective order (TPO) against a spouse (as well an ex-spouse, other family member, or other person with whom there was intimate involvement) by petitioning a Pennsylvania court and providing some evidence by abuse directed at the person or his or her children by the spouse.
For purposes of obtaining the TPO, “abuse” can include:
- Placing another person in fear of imminent bodily injury, or
- Knowingly engaging in a course of conduct or repeatedly committing acts toward another person, including following the person, without proper authority, under circumstances which place the person in reasonable fear of bodily injury
Thus, if a spouse is sending you messages or otherwise posting information online which reasonably cause you to fear bodily injury to you or a family member, you can take immediate action to petition the court for a TPO. The online communications do not have to explicitly make threats of bodily injury, so long as it was reasonable under the circumstances for you to fear bodily injury. Thus, coded language, pictures, images, or other messages that, given the other circumstances of your relationship with the spouse, cause you to fear bodily injury may be valid grounds for obtaining a protective order.
Obtaining a TPO and Final Protective Order
To obtain a TPO, you can petition the court by providing evidence of the cyber bullying, and the court may grant you the TPO without having the abuser present at any hearing, and a Sheriff or other individual can serve the TPO on the abuser. The TPO can include a variety of restraints including:
- Prohibiting the abuser from contacting you or your children
- Requiring the abuser to leave your household
- Requiring the abuser to stay a certain distance from you or your children at all times
When a TPO is in place, the police can arrest the abuser for violating the terms of the TPO. The TPO can last for up to 10 days, at which time you can petition the court for a final protective order which last for a longer period of time. You (along with your legal representative) will have to present a sufficient amount of evidence to the court at that time to justify the placement of the final protective order.
Get Help in Obtaining a PA Restraining Order Today
If you or your children are the subject of online harassment by a spouse, partner, or other current or former member of your household, the family law team at The Martin Law Firm are here to help you take action by pursuing a temporary and/or final protective order against the abuser. At The Martin Law Firm, we have worked with individuals just like yourself throughout Montgomery County and Southeastern Pennsylvania in reaching positive outcomes in family law matters, including obtaining protective orders. Contact us today for a no-hassle consultation regarding your situation.