For purposes of the Protection from Abuse Act, the term "abuse" is defined as the occurrence of one or more of the following acts between family or household members, sexual or intimate partners, or persons who share biological parenthood:
Family or household members are protected under the Act. This includes: spouses or persons who have been spouses; persons living together as spouses or who have previously lived together as spouses; parents, children, and other related persons; current or former sexual or intimate partners; or persons who share biological parenthood. If you feel threatened or are in an abusive relationship, it may be time to file for a Protection from Abuse Order.
Our attorneys at Elderkin Law Firm in Erie, PA realize that this is a devastating and difficult time, and we will help you through the legal process in in a sensitive manner. Our main goal is to make sure you are able to be safe.
We also understand that there are times when a Protection from Abuse Petition is filed against a spouse or significant other without justification. Our Matrimonial Law and Litigation attorneys have experience in both prosecuting and defending Protection from Abuse matters.
If you have an attorney with whom you are working, and an abusive situation arises, you should call that lawyer first. That lawyer already has insight into your particular situation. If you have not yet contacted an attorney and an especially abusive situation arises that requires immediate action, the very first thing you should do is remove yourself and others in danger from the physical reaches of the victimizer, and call 911 or a neighbor for assistance. Once in a safe place, contact your attorney, the police, SafeNet or the Protection from Abuse Office for help in deciding what to do next.
Many times, abuse is not that conspicuous to the person who is being abused, but it may be more conspicuous to family and friends. Long-term emotional situations, such as verbal abuse – lots of insults, verbal threats, degrading remarks – are much more difficult to work with. The victim has experienced it for so long that they do not see how much it is affecting them, and sometimes they do not want to recognize the abuse. They believe they care for the other person so much that it is just the way things are between the two of them. It becomes the norm and they believe the abuser would never really hurt them. Remember: Safety first - get out and protect yourself and your children.
How do I collect evidence of my abuse?
The judicial system will step in to protect you with what is called a Protection from Abuse action. Here, you file a petition and identify the acts of abuse that have been made against you. You bring witnesses, medical records, pictures, and anything else that you can, anticipating that the abuser will deny the abuse. If you have a level of independent evidence, not just a "he said, she said" statement, then the person sued for abuse is more likely to stipulate or consent to the entry of a protection order. Sometimes you have to prove your case at a hearing so it is important to be prepared with your evidence and witnesses, if you have any. If you are filing a tenuous case, or you are trying to manipulate the system to try and get an abuse order in order to take advantage of a property distribution negotiation, you will probably find that the Judges will recognize this and deny your request. If you lose a case like that, you have lost more than just that case. You need to be certain before filing your abuse action that it really is a type of abusive situation that you can prove. Can you win a "he said, she said?" It is possible. Can you win without bruises, medical records, photographs or witnesses? Yes, but you need to be prepared to prove your case properly.
Will I lose custody of my children if I am the abuser?
If you have primary physical custody, you may lose it, and you should. Custody does not necessarily mean that you have the children for a long period of time. Custody means that you and the child(ren) are in each other's presence for some period of time. It can be a few hours here or there. If it is an abusive situation and you still want custody of a child, you may find that your time is going to be dramatically limited and supervised, but you still have custody time. There are situations where people who have been incarcerated also still have partial custody part time, because children are brought to the jail. A parent's rights can be addressed that way.
What should I do if I am being stalked?
If you are being stalked you need to report it to the police department first, and every single time thereafter. Report it again and again and again to build that case. You do need to speak with an attorney or possibly the PFA Coordinator at the Courthouse.
Do I need an attorney for an abuse case?
Yes, you should use an attorney when you are in a legal matter regarding abuse, but SafeNet also provides attorneys that will help you on an interim basis if you do not have anyone else available to help at the time. You should also use an attorney to help you if you believe you have falsely been accused of physical or verbal abuse.