How the Protection From Abuse (PFA) Process Works

December 28, 2022
Makayla Gilchrist

The previous post on protection from abuse orders explained what a PFA Order does, who can a PFA Order be issued against, the definition of abuse, and the two different types of PFA Orders. In this blog, I will describe how the PFA process works so that you can prepare if you find yourself in the middle of a PFA matter

Where to apply for a PFA Order?

A victim of domestic violence can file a PFA Petition at the Bail Administration Office located on the 5th floor of the Lancaster County Courthouse located at 50 North Duke Street, Lancaster, PA 17602. When you appear to file a PFA Petition, you should bring as much information with you about what happened to you and about the defendant, including their name, address, and place of work.

The petitioner will then have what is called an ex parte hearing, meaning communication between the petitioner and the judge only, where a judge decides to either grant or deny the request for a PFA on a temporary basis. If the judge grants the request, a Temporary PFA Order will be issued and will be served on the defendant by the sheriff’s department,. A Final Hearing on the PFA petition will be scheduled within 10 days.

You should expect to spend several hours at the Courthouse to complete this process.

Final PFA Order

A Final PFA Hearing is when the plaintiff and defendant both attend the hearing in front of the judge to determine if the defendant is found guilty of abuse towards the plaintiff. This hearing can only occur if the defendant was served. For this reason, it is important that you provide as much information as possible about where the defendant lives and works so that they can be served.

During the hearing, the plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant abused them and/or their minor child(ren). A final PFA Order is for a fixed period of time up to three years, but can be extended under certain circumstances.

The plaintiff and defendant can also reach an agreement as to a Final PFA Order being issued with respect to the requirements that the defendant must abide to and the timeframe for which the Final PFA Order is in place. If an agreement is reached, the parties will explain the agreement to the judge in the courtroom and there will not be a hearing.

What happens when the PFA expires?

Once the Order is expired, the PFA Order is no longer in effect, meaning the contact restrictions under the Order no longer apply. The defendant is free to contact the plaintiff and does not have to abide by the requirements in the Order that were once set in place.

Extending a Final PFA Order

If the circumstances that led to the entry of the Final PFA Order are not resolved by the time the PFA expires, the plaintiff can go to the courthouse and file a petition for an extension of the final PFA Order. There are certain circumstances where a judge will grant a plaintiff’s request to extend the final PFA Order.

An extension may be granted when the defendant committed one or more acts of abuse after the entry of the final PFA Order or the defendant engaged in a pattern or practice that shows there is a risk of harm to the plaintiff or the minor child(ren). An extension may also be granted when the defendant is or was incarcerated and will be released from custody within the next 90 days or has been released from custody within the past 90 days. There is no limit on the number of extensions that may be granted.

If you find yourself in need of an attorney to advise you on how to file for a PFA or if you find yourself defending against a PFA, contact one of our attorneys to discuss your options and the best way to prepare for your hearing.