Restraining orders are issued by judges to protect victims of abuse and harassment from further such acts. In Pennsylvania, restraining orders are known as Protection from Abuse Orders (PFA), and are civil orders giving protection from domestic violence by a family or household member, an intimate partner or someone with whom you have a child. Domestic violence includes the following: attempted, actual, or repeated threat of bodily injury; rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse; sexual or indecent assault; incest; false imprisonment; and child abuse.
File a Petition
File a petition for a Protection From Abuse Order at the Court of Common Pleas in your county. Bring identification with you to court; also bring any police or medical records you may have relating to the abuse.
The court will give you the forms you need. Once you have completed the forms, which will require a detailed explanation of the abuse, a judge will review them. After the review, the judge will decide whether to grant a temporary restraining order, which will protect you until your full hearing. The judge will also set a date – within 10 days – for the hearing.
If you believe you are in immediate danger, and the courthouse is closed, go to your local police station, which will help you file a petition with a magisterial district judge.
There is no fee to file.
Give the Petition to the Sheriff's Office
Give a copy of the petition (with the hearing date) and the temporary restraining order (if applicable) to your sheriff's department, and wait for it to serve the respondent – the alleged abuser – with the paperwork. "Serving" simply means delivering to the suspect notification of the allegations, the hearing date, and (if applicable) the temporary restraining order. A temporary order will not be enforceable until it has been properly served.
Prepare for Your Case
Prepare for your case. Practice presenting your story to someone else, as you will need to be able to explain to the judge clearly, accurately and descriptively why you are in need of protection. You should also compile any evidence – police or medical records, written communication, photographs of injuries or damaged property, or witness testimony – that can support your case.
In some (but not all) Pennsylvania counties, you are required to have an attorney at the hearing. You will be informed if this is the case, and told how to apply for a pro bono (free of charge) attorney, if necessary.
Attend the Hearing
Attend the hearing. Both the plaintiff and the respondent will present his and her sides of the story and provide evidence to the judge. After hearing both sides, the judge will determine whether to grant the final protection order.
A protective order can grant alternate housing; custody or spousal support; child visitation stipulations; mandatory relinquishment of weapons; no-contact orders; and payment for losses suffered due to abuse.
When granted, final protective orders are valid for 18 months. They can be extended or reapplied for after that time, if necessary.
Penalties for violation of a Protection From Abuse Order are steep. Violators can be found in indirect criminal contempt of court, with penalties including a maximum of 6 months in jail and/or a fine from $100-$1,000.
In Pennsylvania, the plaintiff and respondent can waive a hearing if they come to an agreement on the order. He or she may file a written agreement prior to or at the time of the final order hearing.