Domestic abuse is all-too-common in Pennsylvania, and sometimes it’s the impetus for one spouse to seek a divorce or to leave a relationship.
Certainly, no one should have to stay in an abusive relationship. However, it’s important to understand that the process of staying safe from an abusive person is legally separate from the process of divorce and its other family law issues, including child custody and support.
Sometimes, a person leaving an abusive situation takes the kids with them and tries to keep their ex from seeing them. In some situations, this is an appropriate way to protect everyone, but it must be handled correctly to avoid potential negative legal implications.
A person who has been abused or feels threatened by a spouse can file for a protection order under the Protection from Abuse (“PFA”) Act with a Pennsylvania court.
A PFA order sets rules and restrictions on the abuser. Most commonly, the PFA order might say the person cannot contact the victim in person at their home or place of business or contact them by phone or any other means. If the abuser violates the order, they can be arrested, fined up to $1,000 and possibly jailed for as long as six months.
The abuser has the right to a hearing to protest the protection order, but because the goal is prevention, the initial temporary protection order can go into effect before the abuser has had a hearing.
Child custody and protection orders
In cases where one parent has abused or threatened a child, a protection order can keep the abuser away from the child. However, it may be different or more complicated in a situation where a parent is abusing the other parent but not the child.
Both parents have rights and responsibilities with regard to their children. This means a parent who takes their children away from the other parent may be infringing on that other parent’s rights.
In other words, a parent who is escaping abuse and who takes a child with them may still need to allow the other parent visitation with the child.
This can be a difficult matter to navigate, but experienced attorneys help clients to work out plans that will protect them and their children while staying within the boundaries of the law.