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What To Do If You’ve Been Served with a Protection From Abuse Order

man reading document with his hand over his eyes

If you have been served with a petition for protection from abuse in Pennsylvania, it is important to take immediate action to protect your rights and ensure the best possible outcome in your case. Do not ignore a PFA.  Receiving a PFA is usually an emotionally distressing experience, especially if you have to leave your family home or stop seeing your children. You might feel like acting out or simply ignoring the PFA, but it would be a mistake to take a PFA lightly. If it becomes permanent, a PFA can have serious consequences on your life. The best chance you have for fighting a temporary PFA and preventing it from becoming permanent is to follow the restrictions exactly, show up for your hearing, and consult an experienced attorney.


Here are some important steps to take and things to avoid between now and the hearing:


What To Do:


1. Read the Petition Carefully

Take the time to thoroughly read the petition for protection from abuse that has been served on you. Make note of any specific allegations or claims made against you. Note whether protection is sought in favor of the Petitioner only or the Petitioner and any minor children.


2. Know When It Takes Effect

The PFA is in effect as soon as you receive the notice. If you don't comply with the PFA while it's in effect, you are violating the PFA and could be arrested and charged with contempt of the PFA order. The first PFA you receive is temporary, usually lasting only 10 days. After the 10 days, you'll attend a hearing where a judge will decide if the PFA becomes permanent or dismisses it.


3.  Contact an Attorney

It is crucial to seek legal representation as soon as possible. An experienced attorney can guide you through the legal process, help you understand your rights, and represent you at the hearing.


4. Gather Evidence

Collect any evidence that may support your case, such as witness statements, text messages, emails, or other documentation. This evidence can be crucial in defending against the allegations made in the petition.  It's important to keep as thorough records as possible, and even review communication from before the PFA took effect. Give your attorney any information you can think of that might be pertinent to your PFA hearing.


5. Follow the Terms of the Temporary Order

If a temporary protection from abuse order has been issued against you, make sure to comply with all terms and conditions outlined in the order. Violating the order can have serious legal consequences.


6. Attend the Hearing

It is important to attend the scheduled hearing to present your side of the story and defend against the allegations made in the petition. If you can't make the scheduled hearing date, then you need to make arrangements with the court to have another hearing date. You have to write to the court and ask for a continuance right away, which will move the date back. You must provide a reason as to why you cannot be present on the original date, and it usually must be a serious conflict. Your lawyer can help you ask the court for a new date if you need one.


What NOT To Do:


1. Do NOT fight the person serving it.

Do not become aggressive or violent against the person serving you the PFA, no matter who it is. As soon as you're presented with that paperwork, the court can use any actions you take against you in your hearing. If you want to prove you have good character to the judge at your hearing, remain respectful and quiet when receiving your PFA order.


2. Do NOT contact the petitioner.

Do not attempt to contact the petitioner directly, either in person, by phone, or through social media. This can be seen as a violation of the protection from abuse order and can harm your case.  Also, any messages you send to the plaintiff, by SMS, social media, email, or any other medium, can be used against you in your hearing. You also cannot ask a someone else, other than your attorney, to speak to the plaintiff for you, as this is also a violation of the PFA. Even if the plaintiff contacts you, and although you might want to respond, you cannot.


3. Do NOT discuss the case with others.

Avoid discussing the details of the case with friends, family members, or anyone else who is not directly involved in your legal representation. Confidentiality is crucial in protecting your case.


4. Do NOT violate the terms of the protection from abuse order.

It is crucial to comply with all terms and conditions outlined in the protection from abuse order, including staying away from the petitioner and refraining from any contact.


5. Do NOT represent yourself in court.

While you have the right to represent yourself in court, it is highly recommended to seek legal representation from an experienced attorney. An attorney can provide valuable guidance and advocacy to help you achieve the best possible outcome in your case.


Being served with a petition for protection from abuse can be a stressful and overwhelming experience. By taking the necessary steps to protect your rights and work with an experienced attorney, you can navigate the legal process effectively and defend against the allegations made in the petition. Remember to follow the dos and don'ts outlined above to ensure the best possible outcome in your case.


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