You Can Still Get a Protection from Abuse (PFA) In the Time of COVID-19

April 17, 2020
Laura E. McGarry

With the stay-at-home directives implemented in response to the threat posed by COVID-19, we have all been spending a lot more time at home. For some, minor (maybe, major) adjustments had to be made to figure out how to handle being stuck in a seemingly cramped house with our families 24/7. 

Even in the best of situations, this can be a struggle.  

But for others, being stuck at home can create serious new tensions or flare pre-existing ones. In some cases, these hostilities can lead to violent encounters that place the health and safety of family members within the home at risk. When that happens, it is often necessary for a person who is experiencing abuse, as defined in the Pennsylvania Protection from Abuse Act, to obtain a Protection from Abuse (“PFA”) Order to protect themselves or their children from ongoing abuse. 

Even with the closure of courts in Pennsylvania, it is possible to obtain a PFA Order.

In Lancaster County, the court has issued an Administrative Order addressing how the court will function during the closure and, specifically, the process for obtaining a PFA. 

Courts in other counties in Pennsylvania have issued similar administrative orders that address PFAs and other court functions. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is maintaining a list of the administrative orders issued throughout the Commonwealth. 

If you or someone you know are in immediate or imminent danger, contact 911 for immediate assistance. Additional resources are available to those experiencing abuse through the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which has highly-trained advocates who can provide support even if you are unable to speak safely. 

Applying for a PFA Order

Despite the fact that the Lancaster County Courthouse is closed to the public, those seeking a PFA Order can still enter the courthouse for the purpose of applying for a PFA Order at the Bail Administration Office. The Court is hearing emergency PFA petitions at 11:30 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. each day, during which a judge will decide if the facts in the PFA Petition are sufficient to allow the court to enter a Temporary PFA Order.  If you have any questions, you can contact the Lancaster County Bail Administration Office at 717-295-3584. 

If the court issues a Temporary PFA Order, a Final PFA hearing will take place at a later date. The courts have suspended all final PFA hearings until further Order of Court. This action means that any Temporary PFA Order issued during the court closure will remain in place until the courts hold the Final PFA Hearing unless otherwise indicated in the Temporary Order.  

If the courts issue a Temporary PFA Order, they will serve the perpetrator of abuse with a copy of it. The perpetrator will then be required to abide by any of the requirements listed in the Order, which can include: 

  • refraining from engaging in abuse 
  • exclusion from a shared residence 
  • transfer of custody of any minor children 
  • prohibiting contact with those protected under the Temporary Order, and
  • prohibiting the acquisition or possession of any firearms. 

If the courts have granted you a Temporary PFA Order and your abuser is not abiding by the terms, contact 911 to report the violation. 

If you are facing an emergency that requires court intervention, contact Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP to discuss your options with one of our attorneys. Although we have closed our physical office, our virtual office is open for business.

Laura McGarry is an attorney at Russell, Krafft and Gruber, LLP in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She received her law degree from Penn State Law and provides legal counsel to individuals and businesses in Lancaster and surrounding communities.