The Pennsylvania domestic relations statute establishes a law designed to protect certain individuals from abuse. The individuals that are protected under the statute include family or household members, sexual or intimate partners, or persons who share biological parenthood with the person alleged to have committed the abuse. The term “abuse” under the statute includes the following:
- Attempting to cause or intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing bodily injury or assault;
- Placing another in reasonable fear of imminent serious bodily injury;
- The infliction of false imprisonment;
- Physical or sexual abuse of minor children; or
- 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.
After an alleged abuse, an individual should always call the police. The police may do any or all of the following depending on the situation: prepare an incident report, provide the individual with information on where to seek shelter or domestic violence services, remove the offender from the residence, and make an arrest.
In order to obtain a protection from abuse order from the court, the individual must file a petition with the court, alleging abuse by the defendant. If the plaintiff can prove the allegation of abuse, the statute empowers the court to grant a protection from abuse order to stop the abuse and protect the individual or minor children.
Once the petition is filed, the court may grant a temporary order if the plaintiff’s petition alleges an immediate and present danger of abuse to the plaintiff or minor children. When this occurs, the court will grant an ex-parte proceeding to determine whether a temporary order should be entered to protect the plaintiff and/or the children.
Whether a temporary order is entered or not, the court will schedule a hearing within ten (10) days of the filing of the petition. At the hearing, the plaintiff must prove the allegation of abuse by a preponderance of the evidence. The plaintiff and the defendant can be represented by counsel. The court will hear testimony of the parties and witnesses and can accept any other evidence related to the proceeding. The court will then enter a final order. The final order may:
- Direct the defendant to refrain from continued abuse;
- Grant possession of the residence to the plaintiff and evict the defendant;
- Awarding temporary custody with regards to minor children;
- Prohibit the defendant from having contact with the plaintiff or minor children;
- Cause the defendant to temporarily relinquish weapons to the sheriff;
- Direct the defendant to pay the plaintiff reasonable losses suffered as a result of the abuse (e.g. medical expenses); and/or
- Direct the defendant to refrain from stalking or harassing the plaintiff.
In addition to the protection from abuse statute, all counties in Pennsylvania have domestic abuse hotlines and support groups. For example, in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania there is a domestic violence legal network that was established to help victims. You can access the website here.