DOMESTIC VIOLENCE VICTIMS
Domestic Violence affects women and men from all walks of life and all backgrounds. Knowledge about patterns of abuse may prove helpful to remove yourself from an abusive situation, although the complexities of daily life often leave many people coping with threats, abuse and the constant fear of violence.
DIFFICULTIES OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Make no mistake about it, leaving an abusive situation can be very, very difficult for many people for various reasons. You may have children together, or you may be married or living together or financially dependent on the abuser. You may think they will change. We’re not here to assign blame or make judgments; we’re here to make you aware of remedies available to you so that you can remove yourself (and your children) from an unhealthy and dangerous situation.
LEGAL REMEDIES FOR VIOLENCE OR ABUSE
First and foremost, if you are in imminent fear of bodily harm, you should immediately call the police. If there was an altercation involving domestic violence, the police will arrest the perpetrator and remove them from wherever you are.
The police also have the discretion to ask the person to leave the premises if they determine that there is not probable cause for an arrest.
However in both instances they will usually direct you to file a “PFA” or Protection from Abuse. This is Pennsylvania’s name for what is commonly referred to as a “Restraining Order.”
WHERE TO OBTAIN A PFA – Allegheny Court of Common Pleas – Family Division – 440 Ross Street
In Allegheny County a Temporary Petition for Protection from Abuse may be obtained in person Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 11 a.m. on the Third Floor of the Family Court facility located at 440 Ross Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15219.
(Note: PFA’s are available in every county in Pennsylvania. Each county has it’s own procedures but the protections received are the same. For more information about the specific procedure in your county you should call your local Magistrate or Court.)
WHAT TO EXPECT
Upon arriving at court, you will be required to fill out a petition detailing the facts including any: abuse, stalking, harassment, threats or use of physical force to cause bodily injury. You will then wait to meet with a judge who needs to sign the order granting temporary petition.
The court will provide you with information about having the accuser served and about receiving free legal representation at your final hearing.
HOW LONG IS A TEMPORARY PFA VALID?
A temporary protection from abuse order will be valid from the date it is issued until the date of the final hearing which will be scheduled within ten days of the date of your petition.
EMERGENCY PROTECTION FROM ABUSE (EPFA)
If you need to get a PFA in Allegheny County after the PFA office has closed at the Family Court Building, you may file for an Emergency PFA at your local Magisterial District Judge’s office during their regular business hours.
NIGHT COURT – PITTSBURGH MUNICIAPL COURT – 660 1st Avenue
You may also go to the Pittsburgh Municipal Court Building Located at 660 1st Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15219. This resource, often referred to as “Night Court” is available 7 days a week 24 hours a day.
Note that this “Night Court” is not available during the hours Family Court is open for PFA petitions; you would use this resource when family court is closed, or during nights or weekends. The procedure for an emergency PFA is similar in that you must prepare a petition requesting that a judge grant you emergency protection.
HOW LONG IS AN EPFA VALID?
When granted an “EPFA” is valid for 24 hours or until the next business day. If you wish to extend the protection beyond 24 hours, you will have to complete the process detailed above at the Family Court building downtown.
WHAT DOES A TEMPORARY PFA ORDER DO?
A temporary PFA Order may do any or all of the following:
(1) It will evict the abuser from your residence until the final hearing;
(2) It can order the removal of firearms and weapons;
(3) It may award you temporary custody of minor children;
(4) It will prohibit the abuser from any contact with you either directly or indirectly; and
(5) It will prohibit the abuser from coming to your place of employment or the children’s school.
WHAT IF THERE IS A VIOLATION?
If there is a violation of the temporary order, you should call the police. Upon a showing of probable cause, the police can issue a warrant for arrest on the grounds of Indirect Criminal Contempt, and arrest and jail the abuser.
THE FINAL PFA HEARING
The temporary PFA Order will list a date and time for your final hearing. As noted above, free legal counsel is available to all plaintiffs in PFA cases. Before the final hearing you will meet with the attorney assigned to you (or you may retain private counsel) to discuss the case and your wishes.
Your attorney will be able to attempt to negotiate with the defendant or their counsel in an effort to resolve the matter before heading into a final hearing before the judge. If there is no ability to agree on a mutually acceptable settlement (which may include a “full” PFA for up to three years) then the case will proceed to a hearing before the judge.
Depending on the circumstances you may need to obtain a “continuance” which is an extension of time where another final hearing is scheduled. This could occur if the abuser was not served or if you need time to subpoena witnesses or police to testify on your behalf. The defendant may also request a continuance to obtain counsel or gather witnesses. In either case, the temporary PFA will remain in effect.
However, in cases where the defendant has been served, the matter will be resolved in some capacity on the date of the final hearing. That might include extending the temporary PFA for several months, entering into a Civil Order or entering a PFA Order for up to three years.
The Final PFA Order may also award you custody of minor children, eviction of the abuser from your residence and financial support.
LOCAL RESOURCES FOR VICTIMS
In Allegheny County Victims of Domestic Violence may call the Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh. They have a 24-Hour Hot-line which is: (412) 687-8005.
REMINDER TO VICTIMS
You are not alone. There are compassionate caring people out there waiting to help you stop an abusive situation. There are thousands (or millions) of people across the country (and world) who are the unwilling victims of emotional abuse and physical abuse. There are also thousands
(or millions) of survivors who struggle every day to put the abuse behind them and move on with their lives. Once you decide to empower yourself to leave an abusive relationship, you’re one day closer to living the life you deserve, free of violence and free of fear. There are the legal remedies listed above, but there are also support groups, counseling, therapy and professional and religious groups out there to help you. You are not alone; You are strong.