Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month: How Teens Can Get A PFA in Pennsylvania
February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. Recognizing teen dating violence can be complicated. Jealousy is a warning sign. Jealousy is not a healthy relationship characteristic. Cell phones and social media are often involved in teen dating violence. Anxiety about needing to respond to the messages immediately is a good place to start a conversation about healthy relationships. Why do they feel the need to respond? Why are they anxious about putting the phone away or turning it off during dinner or during an unexpected time period? Have they talked to their dating partner about a need for boundaries?
Have open conversations with teenagers. The conversations should include discussions about healthy relationships, as well as discussions about where to turn if a relationship is not healthy. Discuss what to do if a teen suspects a friend is an unhealthy relationship. Teens should know that males and females can be victims of dating violence; that dating violence can be found in heterosexual and homosexual relationships. Dating violence does not discriminate.
Protection From Abuse (“PFA”) Orders are a tool available to address dating violence. In many states minors can obtain PFAs. They may need the assistance of an adult to do so. In Pennsylvania a minor needs to have a parent or guardian apply for the PFA on their behalf. Note that it is a parent or a guardian. If a minor is not comfortable going to a parent or the parent is perpetrating abuse, the minor can go to a third party to act as a guardian. If the guardian is not a parent, the child should be prepared to explain why they are using a third party that is not a parent as the guardian. When requesting a PFA for dating violence, the teen requesting protection should come with the parent or guardian to court to request the order. The teen will need to explain to the court why he or she feels unsafe and needs a PFA.
To qualify for a PFA, there must be abuse and either a romantic or familial relationship. A romantic relationship does not require sex. A romantic relationship also does not require a long-term relationship or cohabitation. A simple dating relationship that has not yet risen to the level where sex is involved can be enough to qualify someone for a PFA.
If a PFA is needed, it must be requested from the court. In most counties it can be requested from the Family Division of the Court of Common Pleas during normal business hours. If it is outside of normal business hours, then an Emergency PFA can be requested from a local magistrate or night court. The police have information on where to request a PFA. An Emergency PFA lasts until the next business day when the victim needs to go to the local courthouse and request a Temporary PFA.
When a PFA is requested from the Court of Common Pleas and the request meets the legal requirements, a Temporary PFA is entered until a full hearing can be scheduled. The full hearing on the Final PFA is scheduled within ten (10) business days. The temporary order will implement safety provisions pending the hearing. Local domestic violence agencies and/or legal services agencies often provide legal assistance to victims when a PFA is requested. In Pennsylvania if the defendant is a minor, the minor defendant will have often have legal assistance as well.
Implementation of the safety provisions can be difficult. When the minors are in school together it is even more difficult. The school is supposed to be careful not to punish the victim. One of the parties may need to have their schedule changed or desk or locker relocated.
While a PFA can exclude a defendant from a plaintiff’s place of employment or school, it will not likely exclude a defendant when the defendant is a student at the same school or working at the same employer. If the parties attend the same school, someone’s schedule may need to be adjusted. It is always preferred if the defendant’s schedule is changed, but often the victim’s schedule is changed. Where there is no alternative schedule, safety measures need to be put into place. It needs to be clear that defendant cannot be near the victim.
The court system can be daunting, but with the assistance of an attorney as an advocate it becomes more manageable.”