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The process of filing a petition for a PFA in Chester County takes approximately two hours. The filing procedure to file a petition is a multi-step process that includes the drafting of the narrative and petition, a hearing for the petitioner alone with the Court, and the actual filing, certifying and submitting of the completed petition to the Sheriff for service.
The Court of Common Pleas is available from 8:30AM with the last hearing held at 3PM. PFA petitions are filed in the order in which they check in which means that if a petitioner checks in for a PFA at 3:00PM there may be other petitioners that checked in before who will file ahead.
The PFA Act does not cover abuse by a stranger or a roommate that the victim is not intimately involved with.
Even though each county is different, the legal process follows the same general pattern. The PFA process usually starts by filling out a form called a "petition" at the local county courthouse. The questions in the petition ask victims to explain why they want protection and to describe the abuse they suffered. In legal terms, the person who wants the PFA is called the "petitioner" or the "plaintiff". ThePFA petition also asks the petitioner to tell what they want the PFA to do. Usually, there are employees at the courthouse who can help to complete PFA petitions, and give information about free or low-cost legal services in the county or region. The PFA Act says that courthouse information and assistance to PFA petitioners should be provided in both English and Spanish.
After the petition is filled out, a judge will read it and may ask the plaintiff to answer a few questions. The abuser will not usually be present in the court for this. The judge may grant or deny a temporary PFA order and will schedule a date for a final hearing. A temporary PFA order will protect a victim and/or children until the date of the final hearing. This hearing will take place within 10 business days.Even if the judge does not grant a temporary protection order, the judge will schedule a final order hearing.
On the date of the PFA hearing, the plaintiff/victim and defendant/abuser will come before a judge. Both are allowed to have attorneys to represent them at this hearing. A domestic violence advocate may also come with the victim. If both the plaintiff and defendant agree on the terms of an order, the judge will make it official. If either does not agree, the judge will give the victim and abuser the chance to talk on the record about the abuse described in the petition.
After listening to the testimony, the judge may grant the plaintiff a final PFA order. Final orders can be in place for any period of time up to and including 3 years.
The short answer is yes. Please remember that this is a legal proceeding. While the statute does not require a petitioner to have an attorney it is a very good idea to have someone who can advocate on your behalf to the court. Unlike the hearing with the judge that occurred in chambers when the petition was filed initially, this will be before a judge in open court. Furthermore, if the defendant has an attorney and you do not, you may be at a disadvantage in court. Petitioners granted a PFA are entitled to a free attorney from Legal Aid, regardless of income. Please contact Legal Aid if you are granted a PFA at 610-436-4510.
When you leave the courthouse with a temporary order it is very important that you take a certified copy to your local police department or Pennsylvania State Police barracks. A certified copy will have a raised stamp and a red seal that says "Certified from the Record." Always keep a copy of the PFA with you. If there are minor children protected by the PFA provide a copy to the children’s school or daycare center. You may also give a copy to your employer if you so choose.
A defendant who violates a PFA order can be arrested and charged with a crime called indirect criminal contempt. The victim may be asked to testify about the violation at a court hearing. If the court finds the defendant guilty of violating the PFA order, the court can give jail time, probation, and/or fines. Even though the police may arrest and charge an abuser for indirect criminal contempt, the abuser may be released before the hearing. Victims should consider talking to a domestic violence advocate about steps to take to stay safe.
A plaintiff who has a PFA order does not have to register it in a different county or state for it to be valid, but registering it with the local courthouse may be helpful. On the plus side, registering an order allows police to quickly verify the order and respond faster to if an abuser violates it. On the downside, some states will notify the defendant when the victim registers a PFA order in a new county or state. If thevictim does not want an abuser to know where they are, they may not want to register the PFA. Procedures for registering a PFA order vary from state to state.
It is good for a victim to have a certified copy of the order along at all times, especially if a victim decides not to register a PFA order after moving. (A certified copy is one that is stamped with a raised seal and initialed by the court.) It is also a good idea to have multiple copies of the order for work, home, and/or school.
A domestic violence advocate can help victims with many services. They may be able to help victims fill out a PFA petition or go with the victim to court. Advocates can give victims information about the county PFA process and help victims to make a safety plan.
What a victim says to a domestic violence program advocate is confidential. By law, an advocate cannot repeat what victims tell them, even if called into court by a judge. The only exception is that the advocate must report it if the victim reveals that a child is in danger of being abused. Confidentiality between victims and advocates means that victims can speak freely about their circumstances and planfor their future safety.