Protection from Abuse Orders and Custody

There’s a recurring issue where many people are dealing with custody and Protection from Abuse Orders (”PFA”). That is, if you have had a PFA filed against you by a former spouse or partner that you share children with, what are your rights regarding custody? Are you allowed to speak with the other parent to discuss your children? Are you allowed to speak with the other parent to set up a visit with your children?

First and foremost, what is a Protection from Abuse Order? Most people have heard or used the term, “Restraining Order.” In Pennsylvania, we call these kinds of orders, “Protection from Abuse Orders,” or “PFAs” for short. When issued by a Judge, it’s a civil document that prohibits one individual from having any direct contact or indirect contact with a protected person unless the order specifies limited contact is allowed.

PFA law was developed and is intended to prevent the occurrence of physical abuse between family members, household members, or intimate partners. Pennsylvania law defines the term “abuse” to include the cause or attempt to cause bodily injury to another, placing another in fear of imminent serious bodily injury, false imprisonment, physically or sexually abusing a minor, or engaging in a course of conduct without authority that places another person in reasonable fear of bodily injury.

All PFAs start out as a civil matter. This means that you will not go to jail or suffer criminal penalties for having a PFA issued against you. It’s only when you violate a PFA that you are now at risk of criminal prosecution. If someone violates a PFA, the police will file criminal charges against them for Indirect Criminal Contempt of Court. If found guilty of violating a PFA, that person may be sentenced to serve probation, pay fines, or even jail time.

How do individuals violate these PFAs in the first place? The answer to this is simple. Most PFAs state that you are to have no contact directly or indirectly with the protected party. That means no calls to that person, no texting, and no posting about them on social media. If you see them in public, you should distance yourself from them immediately.

The hardest lesson for people to learn is that this is a “one-way street.” The protected party does not have to abide by the same rules as the person controlled by the PFA. The protected party can text the defendant every day and they are free from penalty. It’s only when the defendant responds to them that the defendant is at risk. As unfair as this may seem, this is because the PFA outlines rules the defendant must follow, not the protected party.

So, what do you do if you have children with this protected person? How can you see them? In most cases, this will take a several point approach with the assistance of an attorney. Not only do you need custody provisions in the PFA itself, but you may also need to open a separate custody case in the appropriate county.

It’s helpful when a judge issues custody provisions in a PFA, but it’s not perfect. Your custodial time may be extremely limited until expanded upon in custody court. Further, if the other party refuses to follow the custody provisions you have in a PFA, you may have very little recourse. In many cases, it’s best to protect your rights with a separate custody action.   

If you, or someone you know is in need of assistance with PFAs or custody, it is vitally important that you are represented by competent counsel. If you have been served with a Protection from Abuse action, reach out to one of our attorneys at Lancaster Law Group today for a consultation. We’ll review your case, provide you with legal advice, and prepare to fight for you.  

DISCLAIMER – The information contained in this article is for general guidance on the subject matter only. The application and impact of laws can vary widely based on the specific facts involved. Given the changing nature of laws, rules and regulations, and the inherent hazards of electronic communication, there may be delays, omissions or inaccuracies in information in this article. Case summaries are primarily excerpted directly from the decisions authored by the courts. The decisions are cited and linked and the reader is encouraged to read the entire decision. Accordingly, the information in this article is provided with the understanding that the authors and publishers are not herein engaged in rendering legal or other professional advice and services. As such, it should NOT be used as a substitute for consultation with a Lancaster Law Group attorney about this or any other legal issue. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should always consult with a Lancaster Law Group attorney.