The Protection From Abuse Process
To obtain a Protection From Abuse Order (PFA) the victim/survivor (or a parent or guardian if that person is under the age of 18) must complete and file a petition with the Court. The person filing the petition should go to the PFA Court Administrator's office in the Westmoreland County Courthouse between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. (note that the office closes from 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. for lunch). The Court Administrator's office is located in Room M6, on the Mezzanine level of the Westmoreland County Courthouse in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. The telephone number for the PFA Court Administrator's Office is (724) 830-2207. There are advocates from the local domestic violence assistance programs (The Blackburn Center and The Alle-kiski Area Hope Center) available in that office to assist you with this process.
After the victim/survivor completes and signs the petition, s/he must present the petition to a Judge and ask the Judge to schedule a hearing on the PFA issues. The PFA law requires that this hearing be scheduled for a date that is no more than ten (10) business days from the date that the victim/survivors files the petition. Additionally, the victim/survivor asks the Judge to grant what is called a Temporary Protection From Abuse Order. A Temporary PFA protects the victim/survivor from the alleged abuser until a hearing is scheduled where the accused abuser has an opportunity to appear and defend against the claims made in the victim/survivor.s petition. The Judge will schedule the hearing and decide whether to grant the Temporary PFA based on the allegations written in the petition and possibly oral testimony from the victim/survivor.
The alleged abuser will not be present for this process. However, the alleged abuser must be served with a copy of the victim/survivor.s petition and the Temporary PFA Order if one is issued. These documents must notify the alleged abuser of the date and time that the hearing will be held to determine whether the Judge will grant what is known as a Final PFA Order. (The term .Final. can be misleading. Pennsylvania law does not permit permanent or lifetime Protection From Abuse Orders. The longest that a PFA Order will be issued for is three years.) The County Sheriff.s Office will serve these documents on the alleged abuser. The victim/survivor must provide them with copies of the documents. The Sheriff.s Office is located in the basement level of the Westmoreland County Courthouse. The victim/survivor should also provide a copy of the Temporary PFA Order to their local police department.
The victim/survivor may choose to hire a private attorney to represent him or her at the PFA hearing. Laurel Legal Services, Inc. will represent victims/survivors at the PFA hearing as long as that person schedules an appoint with Laurel Legal Services, Inc. for an initial intake and interview, keeps that appointment, and there is not a conflict of interest.
If you choose to have Laurel Legal Services, Inc. represent you, the individuals assisting you with your petition will schedule you an appointment. Laurel Legal Services, Inc. is located at 306 S. Pennsylvania Street. You MUST keep your appointment to be represented by an attorney from Laurel Legal Services, Inc. During your interview, the attorney will advise and prepare you for your PFA hearing. The attorney will ask you to provide details about the reasons you filed for a PFA Order. On your hearing date, the attorney will meet you at the Westmoreland County Courthouse, outside the Courtroom where the hearing will be held. The first step on the day of the hearing is to determine whether the alleged abuser has been served with the PFA Petition and Temporary PFA Order. If the alleged abuser has been served, the attorney will determine whether s/he is represented by an attorney. If that person is not currently represented by an attorney but indicates that s/he would like time to obtain an attorney, typically, the Judge will grant what is called a continuance of your case. A continuance is simply an order of court that postpones and re-schedules the hearing date to give the alleged abuser time to retain an attorney. The Temporary PFA Order will remain in effect if your case is continued.
If the alleged abuser does not have a lawyer and does not want time to get a lawyer or if the alleged abuser has an attorney, the next step is to try to reach what is called a consent agreement. A consent agreement is an agreement where the alleged abuser agrees to a PFA Order without having a hearing. A consent agreement is not an admission of guilt by the alleged abuser. The parties can negotiate about the terms of the PFA Order, including but not limited to the length of time the PFA will remain in effect, whether the abuser will be evicted from the residence, and custody/visitation of the children if any.
If the parties cannot reach an agreement, then a hearing will be held. Both sides will be given the chance to present his or her case. The majority of evidence presented will be through witness testimony. You will likely testify as a witness before the Court. The alleged abuser will be present in the courtroom during this testimony. Your attorney will ask you questions. The Judge may also ask you questions. Then the attorney for the alleged abuser, or the alleged abuser himself or herself if they do not have an attorney, will ask you questions. This is called cross-examination. The alleged abuser will have an opportunity to testify and then your lawyer will cross-examine him or her. Based on the evidence, the Judge decides whether to grant or deny the PFA Order, what the duration of the order will be and whether to grant any other relief to the victim/survivor.