February 21, 2017
A question that we commonly hear from litigants who are defending or have defended against a Petition for a Protection from Abuse Order is whether the Order can be expunged from their record. The answer is: that depends on how far through the legal system the Protection from Abuse matter progressed.
By way of background, a Protection from Abuse Order, or a “PFA Order” as it is more commonly called, is a remedy available to victims of domestic abuse pursuant to a portion of the Pennsylvania statutes known as the Protection from Abuse Act. An individual who is seeking protection under the Protection from Abuse Act must file a Petition setting forth the allegations of abuse and the basis for which the individual is seeking court relief. The Court has the power to enter an immediate, temporary PFA Order upon receipt of the Petition; however, the defending party is entitled to a prompt hearing on the merits of the allegations within 10 days.
The entry of a PFA Order is a grave matter. The length of the Order can be for up to 3 years, with the option of extending the Order even longer at the conclusion of the initial period. The Order provisions can be extremely restrictive and life changing, to say the least. A typical PFA Order can include a ban on contact between the parties, an award of possession of the parties’ residence to the victim-party, custody provisions, and the relinquishment of firearms. Violations of a PFA Order carry hefty fines and the very-real threat of incarceration. In short, a Petition for a PFA Order is not a matter to be taken lightly.
A PFA Order can also have long-lasting effects on the defending-party’s professional and social life. It is unquestionable that a PFA Order, even if long expired, carries a heavy stigma in society and can be a large burden to overcome in future employment, educational and social endeavors. For this reason, individuals who are facing PFA litigation or are already subject to a PFA Order often wonder what remedies are available to them to remove the PFA litigation and any resulting Order from the court record.
Our Superior and Supreme Courts of Pennsylvania have had the opportunity to weigh in on this issue with three published decisions entered from 1997 through 2007. The conclusion reached is that an expungement of a PFA Order is only available where the Order never progressed beyond the issuance of a Temporary PFA Order. In other words, an expungement is not available where there has a been a finding of abuse by the Court and a final Order entered.
In the P.E.S. v. K.L. case, a 1998 Superior Court of Pennsylvania case, a Petition for Protection from Abuse was filed, but a temporary Order was not entered. Neither party appeared for the hearing and no further action was taken on the Petition. The Court, influenced by the negative implications associated with a Protection from Abuse record, agreed to dismiss the stale PFA Petition and expunge the underlying record. In 2000, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania weighed in on this issue in the Carlacci v. Mazaleski case. In that matter, a Temporary PFA Order was issued and continued as a temporary Order by agreement of the parties for a short period of time. After that period of time passed, the parties agreed that the Temporary PFA Order should be declared “null and void.” The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania approved of the Court’s rationale in P.E.S. v. K.L. and approved of an expungement of the underlying PFA record, where, again, there was never a hearing or finding by the Court of abuse and the matter never progressed beyond the Temporary PFA Order stage. The most recent published decision on this issue comes from the Superior Court of Pennsylvania in the Charnik v. Charnik case. In that opinion, the Court declined to extend the expungement remedy to cases where a final PFA Order was entered by the Court after a hearing on the matter.
If you are facing a Petition for a PFA Order, it is vital that you speak to an attorney to gain an understanding of the legal ramifications of a PFA Order, your likelihood of success based on the facts of your specific case, alternate solutions to a PFA request, and any long-term expungement prospects.
If you have any questions about PFA Orders and procedure, please contact Elizabeth Early at 610-275-0700 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The information above is general: we recommend that you consult an attorney regarding your specific circumstances. The content of this information is not meant to be considered as legal advice or a substitute for legal representation.