August 29th, 2023

Understanding the Rights of Domestic Violence Victims in Pennsylvania

Domestic violence is a serious problem that people of all ages and backgrounds face. If you or someone you love needs assistance or support due to domestic violence, it’s important to know your rights under Pennsylvania law. At Gross McGinley, LLP, our family law attorneys believe everyone deserves to feel safe at home. We’re dedicated to helping victims of domestic violence in Pennsylvania understand their rights and legal options.

Protection From Abuse Orders

One of the most common ways domestic violence victims in Pennsylvania can protect themselves is by filing for a protection from abuse order (PFA). A PFA is a court order that prohibits an alleged abuser from contacting, harassing, or approaching a victim and, in some cases, their children. In Pennsylvania, a PFA can be obtained by a person who has been abused by a family member, current or former spouse, or intimate partner.

The three types of protection from abuse orders include an emergency PFA, temporary PFA, and final PFA. An emergency PFA can be granted by a Magisterial District Judge at times when the Court is not open if there is an immediate need for the protection of a victim of domestic violence. The granting of an emergency PFA and a temporary PFA are temporary in nature and only remain in effect until a final PFA hearing can be held. A final PFA can be obtained through agreement of the parties, or after a hearing where the Judge hears testimony and issues a ruling. A final PFA can be in effect for up to three years, however, in some circumstances the court can extend the final PFA and there is no limit on the number of extensions that may be granted. The process for obtaining a PFA varies by county. An experienced family law attorney can help you file for a PFA and help to ensure all relevant information is included in your request.

If you are being harassed, stalked, or abused by someone who is not an intimate partner or family member, there are other types of protective orders in Pennsylvania that may apply in your case. A family law attorney can evaluate your case and advise you of all the legal options that may be available to you.

Far-Reaching Protection

In addition to the Pennsylvania Protection From Abuse Act, the federal Violence Against Women Act deems a PFA valid in all U.S. territories and tribal lands. This means that if you obtain a PFA from a Pennsylvania court and move out of state, that order is still valid and your abuser must abide by all restrictions. Although a PFA is a civil matter, if a defendant violates the order in Pennsylvania, they could not only face related criminal charges but also an indirect criminal contempt charge of the PFA that carries penalties of up to six months in prison and a fine of up to $1000.00.

Law Enforcement Response

Law enforcement agencies in Pennsylvania take a proactive approach to help victims find protection and services and hold abusers accountable for their actions. Police are required to promptly respond to domestic violence incidents. Officers must provide information about victims’ rights, available resources, and assistance with filing for a PFA order if necessary. If there is evidence of abuse or violation of a protection from abuse order, law enforcement officers may arrest an abuser without a warrant.


Domestic violence victims in Pennsylvania have the right to confidentiality during legal proceedings. Their personal information, including addresses and contact details, is to be kept private to prevent further harm. This protection extends to court records and proceedings to ensure victims feel safe when seeking legal remedies.

Legal Representation

Pennsylvania domestic violence laws also empower victims to navigate the legal process effectively. Victims have the right to legal representation when filing for a PFA, in court hearings, and in other matters involving domestic abuse. Legal aid services are available for those who cannot afford a family law attorney.

Child Custody and Visitation

Pennsylvania courts consider the safety and well-being of children a top priority. Judges will consider evidence of domestic violence and its impact on children when determining custody and visitation. This helps to ensure children are not exposed to further harm and that their best interests are kept at the forefront. Our team of family law attorneys is well-versed in handling all types of domestic violence cases involving children and fights to protect your rights.

Housing Rights

Finding a safe place to live is a major challenge for victims of domestic violence. In Pennsylvania, landlords are prohibited from terminating a rental agreement solely based on a tenant being a victim of domestic violence. Victims also have the right to request the changing of locks or other security measures to enhance their safety.

Employment Protections

Pennsylvania law prohibits employers from discriminating against employees who are victims of domestic violence. They are entitled to reasonable accommodations to promote their safety at work, which may include moving to another work location or adjusting schedules to avoid an abuser. If you feel your employer is discriminating against you because you’re dealing with domestic violence issues, our employment lawyers can help.

Access to Services

Providing comprehensive services to domestic violence victims is a priority in Pennsylvania. Various organizations offer crisis intervention, counseling, support groups, and referrals to shelters or housing assistance. These services are designed to address victims’ emotional, psychological, and practical needs as they navigate the aftermath of abuse. If you or someone you know needs help, the National Domestic Violence Hotline provides information about local organizations and agencies that serve victims and their families.

Education and Awareness

Pennsylvania has dedicated significant resources to educational initiatives in schools, community workshops, and public awareness campaigns that address issues surrounding domestic violence. These programs help inform and educate individuals and communities about how to prevent and recognize the signs of domestic violence. They also provide information and resources for victims and their families.

How a Family Law Attorney Can Help

Our seasoned family law attorneys recognize that the needs of each victim are unique and multifaceted. We’re committed to helping domestic violence victims break free of abuse and rebuild their lives. Although domestic violence laws in Pennsylvania are designed to uphold victims’ rights and raise awareness, a competent, caring family law attorney can help to ensure those laws are enforced to your maximum benefit. Our team offers compassionate legal representation and voraciously protects your rights to help you find justice, safety, and healing.

Contact a Family Law Attorney in Pennsylvania

If you are a victim of domestic violence, you’re not alone. At Gross McGinley, LLP, we’re dedicated to providing forward-thinking legal representation with integrity and respect. For more than 40 years, we’ve helped clients in Pennsylvania work toward the best possible solutions and outcomes. We provide a wide range of legal services, including criminal defense, family law, business law, litigation, estate planning, business and employment law, real estate, and more.

To schedule a consultation with a family law attorney, contact us or call 610-820-5450

The content found in this resource is for informational reference use only and is not considered legal advice. Laws at all levels of government change frequently and the information found here may be or become outdated. It is recommended to consult your attorney for the most up-to-date information regarding current laws and legal matters.