Pennsylvania has statutes that govern domestic violence and Orders of Protection from Abuse (PFA), and some state-level procedures are in place to help guide you if you want to dismiss such an order. But individual jurisdictions, and particularly counties, sometimes have their own rules in place. Understanding state law can definitely be helpful, but always check with the county where you got your PFA to find out if procedures there differ in any way.
Who Can Seek Protection?
First, make sure you actually do have an order of protection from abuse. It’s possible that you might have filed a criminal complaint against your abuser instead. PFAs deal only with very specific relationships. If your relationship falls outside this scope, you most likely filed a criminal complaint, and you should return to the police station where filed it to find out how and if you can drop it.
PFAs apply only to family members or to someone with whom you had an intimate relationship, including the parent of your child even if you were never married. Family members include domestic partners and same sex couples, siblings, spouses, ex-spouses and even in-laws under Pennsylvania law. Age is not a factor – the abuser or person being abused can be a minor. Some counties include less serious dating relationships. Pennsylvania law does not include platonic roommates, although some counties might recognize this relationship.
Read More: How to Vacate an Order of Protection
Why Drop an Order of Protection?
A PFA is a personal safety matter; it is important to be absolutely clear about why you wish to drop the order before applying to the court. It may be valid to drop the order if you had it issued for the wrong reasons, for example, an overreaction to the heat of a single argument or to increase your chances of acquiring child custody in a divorce. It may not be appropriate to drop the order if all you have is a promise that the abuser wants a reconciliation and the abuse will stop. Dropping the order may make it harder to get another order in the future if the promise turns out to be unfounded. It's a good idea to get some legal help or to speak with a counselor and explore all your options before proceeding to drop the order.
What Counts as Abuse?
Pennsylvania law also specifies the types of conduct that count as abuse for purposes of getting a PFA order. Physical abuse or even the threat of physical abuse is covered, but not mental or emotional abuse. Stalking, sexual abuse and false imprisonment are included.
Required Court Hearings
Dropping a PFA order can depend on where you are in the judicial process. The process begins when you file a petition for protection at your county courthouse, and you should be able to see a judge in a private meeting that same day. The judge will have some questions and, if she believes that you need an order of protection, she’ll immediately issue a Temporary Protection Order. The temporary order is good until such time as a hearing can be scheduled to determine whether a final order of protection should be issued. By law, the hearing must be scheduled within 10 days.
If You Want the Court to Dismiss the Order
If you decide to drop your order before you see the judge to ask for a temporary order, tell the court clerk right away. The clerk can instruct you as to what you should do in that particular county while you’re still right there at the courthouse. You might have to file something called a praecipe to discontinue the matter, but most likely you can simply tell the judge that you don’t want the order after all when you see him. Expect him to question you to make sure you’re not being threatened or coerced into dropping the matter.
You can also file a praecipe at any time up until the court hearing for a final order, or you can request at the hearing that the matter be dismissed.
If you’ve already attended the hearing and you’ve been awarded a PFA, the issue becomes a bit more complicated. The court no longer has legal jurisdiction over your case. Loss of jurisdiction means that the court no longer has a legal right to make decisions in the case – unless someone asks. You’d therefore have to file a petition with the court seeking to reopen the case in order to modify the order. Modification can include dropping the PFA. Filing this type of petition will most likely require going back to court.
Under Pennsylvania law, final PFA orders expire after three years, although the time might be less than this at the discretion of the court. You might receive an order that’s only good for two years if the judge thinks this is more appropriate.
If you’ve gotten this far in the process and you have a PFA order, read it over to find out when it will end. If it’s just a matter of weeks, it might not be worth the time and trouble of filing a petition to modify it and going back to court.
If you look at the order and you’re just not sure when it ends, or if you feel that you want help in negotiating all these legal rules, contact the Domestic Violence Legal Clinic that’s in place in most Pennsylvania counties. The court clerk should be able to give you contact information.
If you have a final order of protection, you must go back to court and ask the judge to reopen your case so you can request that it be dismissed.