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Obtaining a PFA

The following sections describe in detail the Pennsylvania Protection from Abuse Act. This includes relief available through the civil and criminal courts, as well as legal options and procedures available to victims of domestic violence in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

About Protection From Abuse Orders

The Protection From Abuse Act allows victims of abuse to seek relief through the courts pro se (on their own) without having an attorney file the papers for them. A Woman's Place and Bucks County Legal Aid developed a joint project to assist victims of abuse in filing pro se for protection from abuse.

The Legal Aid Domestic Abuse office (LADA) is located at 100 Union St., Doylestown, Pennsylvania. A Woman's Place employs advocates to provide options counseling, technical assistance, and emotional support in filing a Petition for protection from abuse.

A Woman's Place offers:

Legal Advocacy—information, education, counseling, and referrals regarding legal options to victims of abuse in Bucks County.

Court Accompaniment—emotional support and empowerment counseling to victims of abuse during civil and criminal court hearings and trials.Bucks County Legal Aid provides a staff attorney to represent Plaintiffs (the person filing the Petition). Bucks County Legal Aid (through the Bar Association) assigns pro bono (free) attorneys to Plaintiffs for their Protection from Abuse hearing date. 

What is a Protection From Abuse Order (PFA)?

It is a civil (non-criminal) Order that can protect a victim from being abused, harassed, threatened, or stalked. A civil procedure will not result in a criminal record for the Defendant.

What is considered “abuse” under the Protection from Abuse Law?

  • Physical abuse including: hitting, slapping, punching, pushing, kicking, biting, throwing heavy objects, and threats of bodily injury.
  • Sexual abuse including rape, spousal rape, sexual assault
  • Assault with a weapon, not limited to a gun or knife
  • Fear of serious bodily injury
  • False imprisonment or restraint (kept somewhere against your will for a period of time with no safe way to escape)
  • Physical or sexual abuse of minor children

Who can get a Protection from Abuse Order?

  • Spouses, or persons living together as spouses, whether they live together now or did in the past, including gay and lesbian relationships
  • Parents, children and other persons related by blood or marriage including persons who share biological parenthood
  • Current or former sexual or intimate partners 

What if I am a man who has been abused by a woman?

You are protected by the Protection From Abuse Act if you have been physically abused, harassed, stalked or your life has been threatened.

How will a PFA protect me?

The Judge may order the Defendant (the person who committed the abuse)...

  • to refrain from abusing, harassing, threatening and stalking you
  • to leave the residence and award you exclusive possession of your residence for the duration of the Order
  • to have no contact with you in person, by phone, fax, mail or e-mail
  • to have no contact with your children if they have been physically abused or threatened with abuse, and/or an incompetent adult for whom you are a guardian
  • to not harass your relatives

The Judge may also...

  • grant you temporary custody of the minor children
  • order the Defendant to pay financial support to you and the children if he/she has a duty to support
  • order the Defendant to give to the police or sheriffs any weapons that were used or threatened to be used
  • order the Defendant to reimburse out-of-pocket expenses you had as a result of the abuse
  • order the Defendant not to purchase or acquire any other weapons for the duration of the order. 

How do I obtain a PFA?

Step 1

If you want legal options and guidance, telephone the Legal Aid Domestic Abuse (LADA) office at 215-348-0445. LADA has the form, called the Petition, available for you and can provide counseling and assistance in completing the Petition. Please call for information and/or to schedule an appointment. You can complete the Petition for a PFA without assistance (pro se), and file it at the Prothonotary's office at 30 E. Court Street, Doylestown.

Step 2

You should allow yourself about two hours to complete the Petition with the assistance of an AWP advocate. It is helpful to bring police reports and/or medical reports if you have them. You do not need to have reported the abuse to a police department or to have received medical attention in order to file for a PFA.

Step 3

When your Petition is complete, the advocate at LADA will make copies for you to be taken to the Domestic Relations Court House, 30 E. Court Street, Doylestown. Copies of the Petition are filed with the Prothonotary (a court clerk). You sign the Petition and it is date stamped. You will be given two copies, one for yourself, and one you must return to the LADA office.

Step 4

Your Petition will be sent to the Judge for his/her review and signature. You will be given instructions by the AWP advocate in the LADA office as to when you should call the Prothonotary's office to see if the Judge approved your Petition for hearing.

Step 5

Serving the PFA Petition. The person you are filing against (the Defendant) must receive a copy of your Petition and Notice for hearing. Once the Judge approves your Petition for hearing, the Petitioner becomes you, the Plaintiff. In most cases when you fill out your Petition, you will fill out the service form included with the Petition. The Prothonotary will forward the Petition to the sheriff who will attempt to serve the Defendant with the notification of hearing. In some cases when the Defendant's whereabouts are unknown, or he/she is out of state or county, service may be completed by a process server or a friend. In this case, the person who serves the Petition must complete an Affidavit. These forms are available in the LADA office and will be given to you during your appointment. An Affidavit tells the Judge that the person actually handed your Petition to the Defendant and states how the server knew the identity of the Defendant.

Step 6

In Bucks County you will need to be represented by an attorney at the hearing. Legal Aid will supply you with a pro bono (free) attorney, and there is no fee for counseling and assistance in completing the Petition at the LADA office. It is helpful to call for an appointment, but not necessary—215-348-0445. You may retain a private attorney if you wish.

Are there additional protections under the law?

Temporary Order -   If there is an immediate and present danger, you may fill out the part of the Petition which asks the Court for a Temporary Order. The Court will decide whether or not to enter a Temporary Order based on the information included in your Petition. You do not need a Temporary Order to qualify for a Final Order. A Temporary Order provides protection between the time a Petition is filed and the time of the Final Order hearing.

Emergency Order -   The District Justice may only issue this Order when there is a true emergency and the Court of Common Pleas is closed. The police can assist you in contacting the District Justice on-call. If an Emergency Order is granted, an additional hearing in the Court of Common Pleas will be scheduled within ten days on a Wednesday morning in Doylestown. You are required to attend. If an Emergency Order is not granted, you may still file a Petition through the normal process and request a Temporary Order and a Final Order through the Court of Common Pleas.

How long does it take to get a PFA?

According to the Protection from Abuse Act, a hearing of your Petition must take place within ten days of filing. Protection from Abuse hearings are held on Wednesdays, at 9:30 a.m., on the third floor of the Domestic Relations Court House, 30 E. Court Street, Doylestown.

The Plaintiff must attend the hearing. Failure to attend the hearing may result in dismissal of the Petition and may affect future Petitions. The Judge may also impose court costs on the Plaintiff for failing to be present...

  • if the Defendant has not yet been served, the hearing may be continued for a week or two until service is completed.
  • if the Defendant has been served, both parties need to appear.
  • if the Defendant has been served and does not appear at court, the Petitioner may be granted the PFA by default.

If the Judge grants a Protection from Abuse Order, it is effective immediately. You will take it with you and deliver it to the police department in your community. You will also receive copies to be distributed where needed.

If the Defendant is ordered to leave the home, a mutually agreed upon time for removal of his/her personal items will be set, and the police should be present to insure safety.

How long does a PFA last? Can I get it renewed?

Protection From Abuse Orders can last for a maximum of 18 months. Occasionally, a Judge will grant an Order of less than 18 months. PFAs are not renewable.  If further abuse occurs after the Order expires, you must come in to file for another Order.

Who does the Order protect?

The Order protects you, the Petitioner/Plaintiff. It can protect family members if there is a threat of harassment by the Defendant. It can also protect minor children if there has been abuse or threats of abuse to them by the Defendant.

How much does all of this cost?

There is no charge to the Petitioner for any part of the process of filing for Protection from Abuse.

NOTE:  If possible, children should NOT come to the courthouse. They are not permitted in the courtroom and the waiting area is usually crowded. It is not a pleasant place for children!

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Bristol, PA  19007


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