Many people have misconceptions about Protection From Abuse (PFA) orders. As a result, they might accept a PFA instead of fighting it. Or they might violate the PFA unknowingly, resulting in criminal charges. Protect yourself by reading Spivak Law Firm’s five most common PFA misconceptions:
Misconception #1: “It doesn’t matter if I get a PFA because I don’t want to see the plaintiff anyway.
Even if you don’t want to have contact with the plaintiff, we strongly advise you to contest the PFA. A PFA stays on the civil docket and can haunt you for years, especially if you seek a job that requires a background check. Protect your future by hiring an experienced PFA attorney to try to get the PFA vacated, withdrawn, or dismissed.
Misconception #2: “The PFA means we can’t contact each other.”
In fact, the PFA means the defendant cannot contact the plaintiff. But the plaintiff can contact the defendant because the PFA restricts the defendant only. If the plaintiff contacts you while the PFA remains in place, do not respond. The plaintiff could be setting a trap to get you arrested. The plaintiff may always seek to withdraw the PFA.
Misconception #3: “I won’t get in trouble for having somebody else tell the plaintiff to drop the PFA.”
A PFA is a no-contact order. No contact includes physical contact as well as phone calls, texts, emails, faxes, and regular mail. It also includes third-party contact. Instructing another person to give any message whatsoever to the plaintiff is a violation of the PFA that could result in criminal charges.
Misconception #4: “A PFA can’t be used to take my kids away.”
Plaintiffs sometimes misuse PFAs to gain leverage in child custody and divorce cases. Plaintiffs may temporarily receive sole custody of a child until the final PFA hearing, causing defendants to go weeks or even months without seeing their kids. Custody provisions are often included in final PFAs that stay in place indefinitely.
Misconception #5: The plaintiff can’t afford a lawyer so I don’t need to get a lawyer either.
In many Pennsylvania counties, including Allegheny and Westmoreland Counties, plaintiffs may receive a free lawyer regardless of income. In these counties, free lawyers are offered to all plaintiffs, not just low-income plaintiffs. Spivak Law Firm strongly advises defendants to hire an experienced PFA attorney to level the playing field.
To speak with an experienced PFA defense attorney, call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.
Although a PFA aims to protect victims of domestic abuse, the law itself is frequently abused by plaintiffs who file bogus PFAs to get defendants evicted from a shared residence or to gain leverage in a divorce or child custody matter.
In our article, Spivak Law Firm proposes five common-sense solutions for curbing abuses. Our recommendations include criminally prosecuting filers of bogus PFA petitions and removing PFA records from the public database if the order is withdrawn or dismissed.
Spivak Law Firm, which focuses on family law and criminal defense, was featured in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last September in an article about child custody rights in Pennsylvania. The local newspaper also spotlighted Spivak Law Firm in its South Notables section and includes us in its business directory.
To speak with an experienced family law attorney, call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.
A Protection From Abuse (PFA) order has devastating consequences for defendants. But people who file bogus PFAs often face no consequences whatsoever.
“Want somebody out of the house? File a bogus PFA!” Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge Kim D. Eaton recently told Spivak Law Firm for an article published in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
A PFA is a no-contact order that aims to restrict perpetrators of domestic violence from contacting their victims. A PFA can also evict an alleged abuser from his home, eliminate his constitutional right to own guns, and forbid him from seeing his kids.
Family law attorneys deride the PFA system as “poor man’s custody” because it allows people to obtain child custody orders while circumventing the formal custody process and associated court fees.
In Allegheny County, people who file PFAs are entitled to free lawyers who strengthen their PFA petitions and represent them at the PFA hearing.
Defendants do not get a free lawyer, and at least three-fourths of defendants in Allegheny County attend the PFA hearing pro se. They are not entitled to a public defender because a PFA is a civil order, though violating it can result in a six-month jail sentence.
Getting a PFA is easy. In 2011, judges in Allegheny County approved a whopping 97 percent of all initial PFA petitions, which are based solely on a plaintiff’s allegations. The defendant gets no opportunity to respond to the allegations until the PFA hearing about 10 days later.
During that 10-day span, defendants may be booted from their shared residence and restricted to having limited phone contact with their children. Defendants sometimes cannot return home even to get essentials such as toiletries or work uniforms.
The temporary PFA instantly becomes a permanent public record that is easily accessible for free online by friends, neighbors, co-workers, and employers. The stigma of the PFA may permanently damage the defendant’s reputation and relationships.
At a PFA hearing, the plaintiff’s lawyers will often ask the defendants directly if they are willing to accept a short-term PFA. Defendants may accept such an offer without appreciating the far-reaching consequences.
But people who file bogus PFAs often suffer zero consequences.
Pennsylvania law states that a person who files a PFA “in bad faith” must pay the defendant’s attorney fees. But proving bad faith is impossible in most cases because of the “he-said, she-said” nature of domestic violence. A person who files a bogus PFA may also be criminally prosecuted, but this rarely happens.
“The court’s attitude is: ‘You won, the PFA was dismissed, be happy,’” says family law attorney Christine Gale.
Here are five common-sense solutions for curbing abuses in Pennsylvania’s PFA law:
First, there should be a colloquy for PFA defendants to ensure that they understand the consequences of accepting a final PFA. It could be as simple as checking boxes on a standard form.
Second, courts should make it easier for allowing defendants to recover attorney fees when a PFA is withdrawn or dismissed.
Third, district attorneys should criminally prosecute what Judge Eaton calls “serial filers” of bogus PFAs.
Fourth, law schools and legal aid clinics should partner to train students to provide free representation for low-income PFA defendants.
Fifth, temporary PFAs should be removed from the public database when the PFA is later withdrawn or dismissed.
Such measures would strengthen an important law by limiting the damage caused by bogus PFAs.
To speak with an experienced PFA lawyer, call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.
Is divorce bad for children? “Yes, obviously,” may be your knee-jerk response, but a recent article in Scientific American points to studies showing that in the long run divorce adversely affects only a small percentage of kids.
There are many conflicting studies about the long-term consequences of divorce on children. According to University of California professor Judith Wallerstein, most adults who were children of divorce experience depression and relationship issues. But research by University of Virginia professor E. Mavis Hetherington shows that only 15 percent of adult children of divorce experience greater problems than those from stable families.
There seems to be a consensus, however, that many children experience short-term negative effects from divorce, such as anger and anxiety. According to Hetherington’s study, such effects typically diminish or disappear by the second year post-divorce.
At Spivak Law Firm, we believe strongly in protecting children through the divorce process. We handle many high-conflict divorces with issues of child custody, child support, and protection from abuse (PFA). To speak with a Pittsburgh family law attorney, call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.
Joe has an anger problem. And he has a drinking problem. But right now the biggest problem he faces is a Protection From Abuse (PFA) order filed by his ex-girlfriend.
Joe’s ex says he threatened her. Joe denies the allegations.
On the morning of the PFA hearing, Joe and his ex sit in separate rooms. She wants a PFA lasting at least one year.
As Joe’s attorney, I ask to speak with the judge. The judge quickly reviews the allegations and appears ready to order a final PFA against Joe.
But I explain to the judge that the parties are not married, have no kids together, and are not living together because Joe has already signed a lease on a new apartment in Westmoreland County. A final PFA could cause Joe to lose his job, which subjects him to routine background checks.
Because there’s nothing tying the parties together, I argue, the judge should dismiss the PFA and let them move on with their lives.
The judge agrees. He instructs the plaintiff’s lawyer to withdraw the PFA. When I return to the waiting area and inform Joe, he exhales a sigh of relief.
“I wasn’t going to hire a lawyer,” Joe says. “I wasn’t even going to show up at the hearing.”
If Joe had not attended the hearing, he likely would have received a maximum three-year PFA. Instead, with the help of his attorney, the PFA was dropped.
For a free consultation with an experienced Westmoreland County PFA lawyer, call Spivak Law Firm today at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.
A PFA is a court order that restricts the defendant from having any contact with the plaintiff. But the plaintiff can contact the defendant without violating the PFA. The Sheriff’s Department of Clarion County distributes a helpful flyer instructing defendants on what to do if they encounter their accusers, which we have reprinted here:
–If you see the plaintiff walking toward you on the street, cross the street, and go in a different direction.
–If you are eating dinner in a restaurant when the plaintiff walks in, you need to avoid any contact with him/her. Get up, pay the bill, and leave, if possible, without making the plaintiff aware of your presence or talking to him/her.
–If you are in a movie theater waiting to see a movie and the plaintiff walks in, get up and leave the theater.
–If the plaintiff calls and says to come over for dinner or to “work things out,” do not go. You should have hung up before all that information was given to you. Do not violate the PFA order by talking to the plaintiff, even when she/he called you.
–If the plaintiff calls you and you can repeat what she/he said, you have violated the PFA order. You should have hung up as soon as you recognized the person’s voice.
–If you receive an email from the plaintiff and respond to it, you have violated the PFA order. You should not send or respond to faxes or emails from the plaintiff.
–If you are told that the PFA order has been changed or vacated and you can have contact with the plaintiff, first check with the court that issued the order. Unless and until court personnel confirm that the order has been changed or vacated or you see a court paper confirming that information, do not have any contact with the plaintiff.
Spivak Law Firm provides strong, aggressive defense at PFA hearings in counties across Southwestern Pennsylvania, including: Allegheny County, Beaver County, Butler County, Washington County, and Westmoreland County. To make an appointment with an experienced PFA attorney, call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.
Spivak Law Firm appeared this week on one of Toronto’s largest radio stations to discuss the stigma of domestic violence and how it affects people who are falsely accused of abuse.
Here’s a summary of our interview with Jim Richards on CFRB Newstalk 1010, which was prompted by news that the long-time puppeteer and voice of Elmo on Sesame Street was falsely accused of having sex with a minor:
“We get calls all day long from people who say they were falsely accused of abuse,” said Todd Spivak, attorney and owner of Spivak Law Firm, “whether it’s harassment, stalking, physical violence, or sexual abuse.
“In Pennsylvania, there are restraining orders known as PFAs, and they’re very easy to get. Judges in Allegheny County sign off on about 97 percent of all initial PFA petitions. And then the majority of these claims are either withdrawn or dismissed.
“In Pennsylvania, the PFA remains a public record. It can preclude you from certain job opportunities and promotions, hurt your credit rating, as well as destroy your relationships with your neighbors, your family, and your friends.”
“Domestic violence is real. But people who are pulled into this system unfairly, unnecessarily, they have to go on and live with this stigma for the rest of their lives.”
At Spivak Law Firm, we strongly defend people against accusations of abuse. If you’ve been served with a PFA or face criminal domestic violence charges, call us at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.