Domestic Violence Lawyer – Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh, PA – Attorney for Domestic Abuse in Allegheny County
Our lawyers handle all negotiations, conciliations, and final hearings for PFA matters for abuse victims in Allegheny County.
Who Can File a PFA?
A PFA (Protection from Abuse) can be filed by a parent on behalf of their minor child or by any adult against: a current or former spouse, current or former intimate partner, or a parent, child, brother, sister or other family member in response to: physical violence, threats of bodily harm, stalking or harassment.
(Note: Not every instance of abuse, stalking, threats, or harassment will meet the criteria for a PFA since the perpetrator may not fall under one of the above categories. However, in those situations there are criminal remedies that one may pursue).
Criminal charges may also be appropriate for some PFA matters too.
Domestic Violence Victims
Domestic Violence affects women and men (and children) 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 out of concern regarding: where they will live, how they will support themselves, what will happen to their children, and simply what will the future hold.
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 are not here to assign blame or make judgments; we are 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, Pennsylvania’s name for what is commonly referred to as a Restraining Order.
Where to file 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 asked to fill out a petition detailing the facts including any: abuse, stalking, harassment, threats or use of physical force to cause bodily injury.
There are victim advocates there to assist you with filling out the forms and to guide you through the paperwork. You will then wait to meet with a Judge who needs to sign the Order granting the temporary petition.
The court staff will then provide you with information about having the accuser served and about receiving free legal representation at your final hearing.
Pro Bono (Free) Attorney Representation
All victims are offered the opportunity for a volunteer lawyer, however they may instead opt for private counsel for the final hearing.
We serve as regular volunteers through Neighborhood Legal Services providing pro bono representation to abuse victims on a recurring basis and have been doing so for more than ten years.
Private Counsel for Abuse Victims
We often are hired as private counsel to represent victims at the final PFA Hearing. At times we represent existing clients when domestic abuse or child abuse arise in those cases.
Other times, we are retained for new cases which begin with a PFA but will also include divorce, custody and support. By getting involved early we are able to ensure the case starts out most favorably for the person filing and their children.
When we handle cases privately we have resources for serving the defendant and for gathering all relevant evidence including: obtaining medical records, police reports, invoices for damages to property, medical bills, arranging for testimony by police officers and other witnesses.
Private Counsel for the Defendant
Unlike plaintiffs, who are provided with a free lawyer, the defendant is not provided with free representation or a public defender. This is a common misconception and men and women seeking representation for false allegations of abuse are often confused about this detail.
The reason is that a PFA is not a criminal matter. While a violation of the order is enforceable by the police resulting in indirect criminal contempt, the underlying matter is a civil matter. Therefore, any person accused of domestic abuse in Pennsylvania desiring a lawyer for defense of an unfounded PFA must hire a lawyer.
Domestic violence is a serious issue, however it is true that there are instances where allegations are unfounded or not truthful and misused in divorce or custody matters, or even simply to have a roommate removed from a shared living space.
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 business days of the date of your petition). If the final hearing is postponed or rescheduled, the temporary Order will remain in effect.
Emergency Protection From Abuse (EPFA)
If you need to get a protection order in Allegheny County after the PFA office has closed at Family Court, you may file for an Emergency PFA at your local Magisterial District Judge’s office during their regular business hours.
Night Court – Pittsburgh Municipal Court – 600 First Avenue
You may also go to the Pittsburgh Municipal Court Building Located at 660 Frist 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 the PFA office at 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:
- It will evict the abuser from your residence until the final hearing;
- It can order the removal of firearms and weapons;
- It may award you temporary custody of minor children;
- It will prohibit the abuser from any contact with you either directly or indirectly; and
- It will prohibit the abuser from coming to your place of employment or the children’s school.
What if there is a Violation of a Protective Order?
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.
Final PFA Order
A Final Protection from Abuse Order may be entered following an evidentiary hearing before a Judge, by consent or by default. Regardless of how it is obtained, a final Order will give you certain protections and rights.
The final Order may be awarded for up to three years, however, any proven violations to the terms of the Order may result in the protections being extended. There are no limits to the number of extensions.
The Final PFA Order may also award you custody of minor children, eviction of the abuser from your residence and place of work, financial support, reimbursement of medical bills and reimbursement for damages to property.
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.
Why hire a Family Law Attorney for your PFA?
When you hire an experienced family law attorney for Protection from Abuse court hearings you are retaining a lawyer who practices family law and only family law. Everyday we assist families in Pittsburgh with matters involving all aspects of divorce, custody, and support.
By maintaining a strict focus in one area of practice we are able to know the law inside and out. Not only are we well versed local practices and procedures, we also have years of experience with Allegheny County Family Court, the Judges and court staff.
Getting the right counsel at the beginning is important because a PFA is usually more than just leaving an abusive situation. Often it serves as the end of a marriage, the beginning of a custody battle, starting child support, spousal support and divorce proceedings.
The way your matter is resolved at court can greatly impact all future litigation involving any related issues.
How we can help?
Contact us if you have questions about domestic violence. We proudly serve clients in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Allegheny County throughout Western Pennsylvania. Free consultation for all victims of abuse. Call today 412.303.9566.