What Statute Governs PFAs in Pennsylvania?

Thirty statutes, a few of them short but most of them lengthy and complex, govern PFA proceedings in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania codifies its Protection from Abuse Act at 23 Pa. §§6101-6122. You can read the whole Act, but doing so will take you a while. The Act's text is about thirty-three pages long. The Act's length, details, ins and outs, exceptions, interpretations, and general complexity mean that you need a Pennsylvania PFA attorney who is committed to and skilled, and experienced in PFA cases. If you face a PFA proceeding, then promptly retain our premier Pennsylvania PFA defense attorneys on our  Criminal Law Team to represent you before it's too late.

Adoption of the PFA Act. By the early 1970s, attorneys representing indigent women in divorce cases recognized that they had inadequate tools to protect those women from domestic violence. Police were generally reluctant to intervene in domestic disputes. If they did intervene with an arrest, the arrest and jail time only worsened the woman's financial situation. The peace bonds that local magistrates could issue to protect women had no ready means of enforcement. When New York enacted a civil remedy for domestic violence, Pennsylvania lawyers and women's advocates came together to draft Pennsylvania's original Protection from Abuse Act. When in October 1976, the Pennsylvania legislature adopted the Act, it was only the second legislative measure in the nation to address the concerns of battered women.

PFA Acts Across the Nation. While Pennsylvania was at the forefront of PFA protections, it no longer stands on its own for providing domestic protection. Many other states followed Pennsylvania's lead in adopting PFA acts or their equivalent. A women's rights organization maintains an interactive map of those state-by-state protections. Congress also got involved, enacting a federal requirement codified at 18 USC §2265 that all states give full faith and credit to the PFA orders or equivalent protective orders of other states. A PFA order issued in one state protects the plaintiff in all other states. PFA proceedings are now the norm nationwide.

Other Federal Mandates. Congress also passed the Violence Against Women Act in 1994. The Act and its 1996 additions acknowledged domestic violence as a national crime concern. Congress expected its federal measures to help burdened state and local criminal justice systems. About the same time, Congress also made changes to the federal Gun Control Act, making it a federal crime in some cases for domestic violence abusers to possess guns. While you may have viewed your PFA matter as solely a state or local concern, police, prosecutors, judges, and other state and local officials know that the federal government shares enforcement concern. They all treat domestic violence as a serious matter.

Further Development of Pennsylvania's Act. Pennsylvania's original Protection from Abuse Act did not authorize police to enforce PFA orders. The original Act also left out protections for women already divorced or separated from the abuser, even though those women needed special protections. Pennsylvania's legislature thus promptly amended the Act in 1978, shortly after its original adoption. The amendments added Section 6114's criminal contempt penalties, including fines up to $1,000 and jail time up to six months. The amendments also expanded protection to divorced and separated persons and expanded the definition of abuse. By 1988, advocates won passage of another round of amendments that further broadened the classes protected, added spousal sexual assault and false imprisonment as forms of prohibited abuse, and helped unrepresented parties obtain PFA orders. The 1988 amendments also added the provisions authorizing the removal of firearms from the PFA defendant's reach.

The PFA Act's Structure. Pennsylvania's sprawling Protection from Abuse Act begins with statute Sections 6101 to 6103, giving the Act its title, defining important terms within the Act, and authorizing the courts to hear and decide PFA proceedings. The Act's next two statutory sections give full faith and credit to other states' PFA orders and assign Pennsylvania law enforcement agency responsibilities. Sections 6106, 6107, and 6108 then state how to start and decide PFA proceedings and what relief a PFA order may afford. Sections 6108.1 through 6108.7 address removing firearms from the reach of the PFA defendant. Most significant among the Act's many other statutory sections, Section 6113 provides for arrest for violating a PFA order, while Section 6114 provides for criminal contempt charges and penalties for those violations.

The PFA Act's Core Provisions. Despite the sprawling nature of Pennsylvania's Protection from Abuse Act, the Act does have core provisions. Section 6102's definitions include key definitions of abuse, involving “[a]ttempting to cause or intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causing bodily injury, serious bodily injury, rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, sexual assault, statutory sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault, indecent assault or incest with or without a deadly weapon.” Section 6102's definitions also limit the Act's reach primarily to protecting “family or household members, sexual or intimate partners, or persons who share biological parenthood.” Section 6106 authorizing an adult party to seek protection or to protect minor children, Section 6107 on the court's authority to issue temporary orders and follow up within ten days with full hearing, and Section 6108 authorizing the broad relief a PFA order may afford, are other core statutory sections.

Why Pennsylvania Adopted the PFA Act. Advocates continue to promote the need for strong protections against domestic violence. The National Domestic Violence Hotline indicates that:

  • more than one in three women will face rape, other physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner
  • more than one in four men will face rape, other physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner
  • one in ten high school students has experienced physical violence from a partner in the last year alone
  • an average of twenty-four people per minute are victims of rape, other physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States
  • more than twelve million women and men will suffer rape, other physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner over the course of a single year
  • nearly fifteen percent of women and four percent of men have suffered injury as a result of intimate partner violence

The Role of a PFA Attorney. While Pennsylvania's Protection from Abuse Act assists unrepresented parties with starting a PFA proceeding and getting a PFA order, parties on both sides benefit greatly when they have skilled PFA attorney representation. This section simply hints at how complex Pennsylvania's PFA Act is. The full Act is much more detailed than anything suggested here. Any one provision of the Act may be critical to your PFA proceeding's outcome. And that's the first role of a skilled PFA attorney, to know the PFA Act forwards and backwards. Your PFA attorney, though, must also have the advocacy skills that PFA proceedings require. A PFA hearing has the character of a trial, even though a judge decides the PFA dispute, not a jury. Your PFA hearing will require witnesses, witness direct examination, witness cross-examination, and introducing exhibits. A skilled PFA attorney will also make arguments and raise objections. PFA proceedings are not for the faint of heart. You need and deserve skilled and effective PFA counsel.

If you face a PFA proceeding, then your best choice is to retain our premier Pennsylvania PFA attorneys on our Criminal Law Team at the LLF Law Firm to represent you. Our Criminal Law Team knows Pennsylvania's Protection from Abuse Act like the back of our hands. We also know how Pennsylvania's local and appellate courts interpret and apply the Act. But above all, our Criminal Law Team has the core commitment, superior skill, and extensive experience to aggressively and effectively represent you. Contact the LLF Law Firm at 888.535.3686 or online for a prompt consultation with our Criminal Law Team

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