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Many lawyers, including ourselves, post information online about how to defend a PFA and the importance of hiring counsel. We offer a free consultation in this regard. But in the interim, many people just want to know the answer to one question:
I have been served with a temporary PFA, and a hearing has been scheduled to determine if the PFA will be “permanent” — possibly having an effect on my life (see our other blog posts), but how many of these actually go to court, and how many are dropped, or settled?
Until recently, it would have been virtually impossible to answer this, except by asking a busy law firm like ours, how may PFA cases do you typically resolve each year? — to get a sense of statistics statewide, but the answer would not take into account pro se cases, where no lawyer is involved, and cases handled by other firms across the state.
In recent years, the Pennsylvania State Court system has employed procedures to track cases all the way through the court system, including not only PFA cases, but also all types of civil litigation, including personal injury cases, business disputes, non-compete agreements, and also custody, divorce and support cases.
- 27, 085 PFA petitions filed statewide, which may seem surprising, but not to us, because each time we handle a PFA hearing, we see at least 5 others scheduled for that day, in Allegheny County alone, each day (Parenthetically, the amount filed in 2014 reflects a slightly downward trend over the years, from 40,000 in 2010, but obviously, the number of filings is significant), and
- Of those filed in 2014, 35,501 were processed (resolved) in 2014.
Here is how the number processed (35,501) were resolved:
- 10,599 cases involved the Plaintiff-Petitioner not appearing at the hearing,
- 7,426 times, the Plaintiff withdrew the Petition;
- 7,125 involved a settlement agreement of some sort,
- 5,916 resulted in a final or “Permanent” Order entered by a judge,
- 2,023 no final order was entered after the temporary PFA expired,
- 1,463 a final ordered denied by a judge, following a hearing,
- 1,306 no hearing was scheduled following the temporary order, and
- 641 involve “other,” where the litigant died, or the case was transferred out of state.
What can you deduce from these numbers?
Nothing, except those defending a PFA Petition need to take it seriously.
The results are skewed into various categories. While almost half of the PFAs in 2014 were withdrawn, this does not mean that there is a 50/50 chance that the PFA Petition against you will be withdrawn. This is because, every case is different. Some couples get back together. For others, many Petitions are withdrawn because the parties reached a broader agreement on child support, custody, or a divorce, but many PFAs do not involved married couples or those with children.
Plus the number of those “withdrawn” includes those where abuse may have occurred, but the evidence is not strong, and the injured party drops the instant PFA, knowing that the Defendant will likely contact her in a way that creates better evidence, to support a subsequent PFA.
In your case, you will not know if the Plaintiff-Petitioner is serious about prosecuting a PFA until you mount a defense. Otherwise, you risk being blindsided at a hearing that have far reaching consequences for you, as you can be adjudicated an “abuser,” which can haunt you for life and not be expunged from the public record. The fact of the matter is, almost all PFA Petitions are done for free, by groups like Neighborhood Legal Services (“NLS”), which is a non-profit that helps “abused” people for free in many instances. That said, NLS only jumps in at two stages: the filing of the petition for the temporary petition, and the attendance of the final hearing. NLS does not make itselves available to negotiate the resolution of a PFA prior to the final hearing, meaning, you need to be prepared for that hearing and not assuming that any “statistic” from 2014 (or any year) will govern your particular case.
If you have counsel at the final hearing, you may appreciate and take advantage of options you may not have otherwise not considered. If, for example, the PFA is settled in some for of a matter short of a “permanent” PFA (talk to a lawyer about these options), then you can later petition to get the fact of the temporary can be expunged from the public record. You should speak with an experienced attorney in this area to prevent what seems like a minor thing — a PFA — from having a long reaching effect on your reputation. Being adjudicated an “abuser” can even impact your ability to rent or lease housing, or be used as evidence against you in an action by CYS or CYF.
Even if you hire an attorney, there is no guarantee that you will win. There are reasons why often judges err (but not all the time) on the side of granting questionable PFAs, which we explain at length, if you click here. In many cases, the best an attorney can do is shorten the length of the permanent PFA, depending on the facts. In other instances, the best case scenario is the maximum PFA, 3 years, but no hearing and not testimony against you that some other enemy of yours now, or in the future, can obtain to use against you. Regardless, the time to have legal counsel review this matter is now, or as soon as possible, before your matter goes to a final hearing.
For more information, call or email our law offices any time.