For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 15

he fable of The Boy Who Cried Wolf is
one I first heard in my elementary school
library, when I was already enamored
by the power of words. The idea that raising
a false alarm could later result in no one
coming to your aid when you really needed
help resonated with me. I felt the panic of the
townspeople who came running when they
believed one of their own was in danger, and
their shock and anger in learning a prank had
been played upon them. In this story, telling
lies had consequences for the Boy, and he
learned a valuable lesson.
In my career as a prosecutor, I worked to
serve the victims of crime, seeking to hold those
who did harm to others accountable for their
actions. I had the discretion to not go forward
with a case or to seek more investigation when
the facts presented seemed off. In a busy city
like Philadelphia, I saw enough cases to hear
the ring of truth in wild stories however
unlikely, and to see the hole where the truth
was missing in otherwise plausible accounts.
The experience was instrumental in shaping
my approach to evaluating credibility.
Now, as a practitioner of family law, while I
continue to seek protection for those who have
suffered abuse at the hands of their partners
or family members, I have encountered
instances where seeking a remedy offered by
the courts-a Protection from Abuse ( " PFA " )
Order-is not always a legitimate cry for help.
Instead of a tool to protect victims of abuse, it
can be weaponized to remove the defendant
from the residence they share with the accuser,
prevent or limit contact the defendant has
with their children, and have devastating
financial and personal consequences. I write to
address those who are currently facing, have
faced, or may face such a wrongful accusation
under the Protection from Abuse Act. You also
have remedies available to you.
Let's go over some background regarding
a PFA action in Pennsylvania. You can find
the applicable law outlining a PFA action at
23 Pa. C.S.A. ยงยง 6101-6122. I'll refer to some
key provisions in addressing the topic at hand
in this article. The procedure and remedies
involved in obtaining an Order have been
exploited in some instances, yet there are
actions one can take to offset the harm in a
wrongfully obtained temporary or final PFA
Order.
Applications for PFA orders have been on
the rise since 2020, according to the statistics
compiled by the Administrative Office of
Pennsylvania Courts. There was a twelve
percent (12%) increase in filings in Pennsylvania
for the year 2021. Ninety percent (90%) of the
temporary applications filed were granted,
pending the outcome of a final hearing. This
T
high percentage of granted petitions likely indicates the lower
standard of proof required when a plaintiff applies for a temporary
PFA, meaning many allegations are accepted, the plaintiff is taken
at their word.
Applying for an Order
One of the key elements of the Protection from Abuse law, the
ability to obtain an ex parte court order, can be the most frustrating
aspect to a wrongfully accused defendant. A person seeking such
an order can fill out a form, speak with a judge or magistrate, and
obtain a court order limiting significant aspects of their life, all the
while fabricating facts or making misrepresentations to the Court.
The Superior Court acknowledged this possibility, stating, " A
person may blithely execute a petition inflating claims of abuse. " 1
Let me be clear here, the persistent ugliness of domestic violence
makes the Protection from Abuse laws valuable and necessary. In
this article, I am addressing the instances in which a person takes
advantage of the remedies offered by these laws to remain in a
residence they could not otherwise afford, or circumvent a custody
proceeding, or disrupt someone's life out of spite. I have defended
clients in each of these scenarios, and I have refused to take actions
forward for clients who had these motivations.
In a divorce action, there are other options available to a person
who wishes to have their spouse leave the marital residence, and
custody actions allow parties to allocate time spent with their
children once they decide to separate. Yet the swiftness with which
one may obtain a temporary PFA order, in an ex parte proceeding,
without having the other side to present a differing version of
events, proves tempting to some wishing to take advantage of
the body of law put in place to protect victims of domestic abuse.
To someone on the receiving end of that wrongfully obtained
temporary PFA order, the situation may feel doomed, the deck
stacked against them.
Once the temporary PFA is granted, the defendant will be served
with it. A sheriff can appear at their home, or at their job, serving
them with paperwork that one has no ability to answer until the
court date. If the defendant possesses firearms, they will have
to surrender those or transfer them to someone outside of their
household. Learning that someone in their family or household has
filed such a petition against them is jarring, upsetting, devastating.
So, what does one do? They cannot confront the person who filed
the petition, now the plaintiff. They should not react to or resist
the officer or process server presenting them with the temporary
PFA Order. The PFA temporary order has implications in both family
and criminal law for many defendants. Gathering information and
staying calm is their best course of action in navigating their way
through the ordeal while minimizing the negative impact upon
them and their life.
In reading the Petition, consider how specific is the Plaintiff in
referring to the reasons for seeking protection? Are you able to
produce evidence that refutes specific facts? Is the petition very
vague and nonspecific? Depending on the allegations and your
strategy, you may choose among the following options:
1. dispute the facts of the petition filed by the
plaintiff in a hearing;
2. negotiate terms for a dismissal of the temporary
PFA and entry of a civil stay-away agreement
either under a divorce or custody case;
Vol. 8, Issue 3 l For The Defense 15

For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3

Contents
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 1
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 2
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - Contents
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 4
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 5
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 6
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 7
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 8
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 9
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For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 13
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 14
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 15
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 16
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For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 70
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