Protection From Abuse filings in Custody Cases – a Word of Caution

by Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.  3 minute read

Filing a bonafide Protection from Abuse Petition is an important safeguard.



Lately, I have noticed an increasing number of persons filing Protection From Abuse (PFA) petitions against each other as a method to gain some sort of advantage in custody or divorce litigation.  Unless you are involved in a bona fide abuse situation, filing a PFA is usually not productive. In fact, it can be counter-productive.

Domestic Abuse is NEVER acceptable.

Most Family Court Judges Are Sensitive to PFA Filings Used To Gain An Upper Hand In Divorce and Custody Litigation.

Most family court judges are sensitive to PFA filings used to try to gain an advantage in divorce and child custody cases. If you pursue a groundless PFA against the other parent, you run the risk of looking foolish and manipulative before the court. This is certainly not something you want.

Some divorce court litigants file PFA petitions as a weapon to try to evict the other person from the home, even though the filing party was not in fear, and the other person did nothing to trigger the filing of a PFA.

Do not ask for protection for the children if you only need protection from abuse for yourself.

If you need protection from abuse, but the abuser is not posing a harm to the children, there is usually no reason to prevent the abuser from seeing the children.

Before, during and after custody litigation, it is almost always better for a child to have access to both parents. Even if one parent believes the children are better off by being only with them, the courts may not agree. Every case is different, but unless there is a clear danger to the child, children should usually have access to both parents. The courts are normally able to distinguish between one parent posturing in advance of a custody battle via a PFA filing and including the children, and a situation that actually requires court intervention to protect a child from being abused.

Some counties in Pennsylvania have a PFA intake coordinator. Some intake coordinators help screen out potentially meritless PFA filings before they are filed. In 2015, one Pennsylvania county incorporated an innovative PFA Friend of the Court program where volunteer attorneys help facilitate agreements between the parties after a PFA petition has been filed, but before the matter proceeds before a judge for a final disposition. Basically, the parties voluntarily enter into written agreements (in the form of a court order), which is signed by the parties, signed by the judge, placed on the docket, and then becomes an enforceable order of court. The original PFA petitions are almost always voluntarily withdrawn on the record upon reaching an alternate, enforceable, written  agreement. In some cases (not all), The PFA Friend of the Court program is a win-win alternative to the standard PFA filing and hearing process.

PFA petitions are an important and necessary safeguard in certain situations. It is important to remember that using a PFA petition for purposes other than what they were designed for, is never a good idea.