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Can You Challenge or Appeal a Restraining Order in PA?

Yes. If a restraining order has been entered against you in Pennsylvania, there is something you can do about it. Let’s review the types of restraining orders in Pennsylvania.

Types of Restraining Orders in Pennsylvania

Protection from Abuse Order

Depending on what you have been accused of, there are a variety of protective orders a judge could issue against you. The most commonly issued protective order is a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order. 

PFA orders can only be issued when there is a domestic relationship between the alleged victim and abuser. These orders follow two stages:

  1. A Temporary Protection Order (TPO) goes into effect when someone formally accuses you of domestic violence and asks a court for protection. It only lasts 10 days or until a hearing is held to decide if the order is legally justified.
  2. A Final Protection Order (FPO) takes effect after a judge hears the arguments for and against a restraining order and rules to issue one. This order initially lasts three years but can be extended indefinitely in three-year increments at a judge’s discretion.

What is the difference between a PFA and a Restraining Order?

“Restraining order” is just a generic term for a variety of court orders forbidding contact with an alleged victim of stalking, domestic violence, sexual assault, and similar crimes. 

In Pennsylvania, a PFA order is a specific type of restraining order. PFA stands for protection from abuse and these orders only apply when there is a domestic relationship between the victim and offender, such as husband/wife or child/parent.

There are three types of restraining orders in Pennsylvania:

  • Protection from Abuse Order
  • Sexual Violence Protection Order
  • Protection from Intimidation Order

Does a restraining order go on your criminal record?

Restraining orders are not criminal convictions. They are civil orders, and like other family law matters, the specifics of the complaint are not easily accessible to the public. 

There is a central database available to Pennsylvania courts and Law Enforcement that lists active restraining orders, but the order itself will not appear in simple background checks or criminal history checks. 

If you hold or are applying for a job with a federal agency (Department of Defense, FBI, DEA, etc) that requires a security clearance, the restraining order will be seen and could result in a revocation or denial of security clearance in certain circumstances. 

Other possible negative consequences of a restraining order are:

  • Lost child custody rights
  • Loss of professional licensing
  • Loss of firearm rights
  • Criminal charges, if you violate a restraining order

How Can You Challenge a PFA Restraining Order in PA?

First, Defend Against the Entry of a Final PFA Order

Your first course of action is to appear at the hearing when it is scheduled in the Court of Common Pleas. The initial restraining order is only temporary (TPO) and the person seeking a restraining order against you must convince the judge to make it permanent. It is wise to retain an attorney to help you explain to the judge what happened if your version of events is different.

Statistics available at the PA Courts website indicate that after a TPO is entered:

  • 30% of the time, Plaintiff/Petitioner to fail to appear at the hearing – no FPO
  • 21% of the time, Plaintiff withdrew the petition – no FPO
  • 20% of the time, the parties come to an agreement – no FPO
  • 6% of the time, the TPO is dismissed and no FPO is entered
  • 5% of the time, the judge does not enter an FPO after the hearing

When a TPO is entered, an FPO is thereafter entered about 18% of the time. An attorney will almost certainly improve your chances further.

Second, File a Motion for Reconsideration or an Appeal

If the judge enters a final PFA and you believe that is an error, you have two options:

  • File a Motion for Reconsideration with the judge who entered it;
  • File an appeal with the Superior Court of PA

You need not file a Motion for Reconsideration prior to filing an appeal – you can appeal immediately if you wish.

Motion for Reconsideration of the FPO

A motion for reconsideration must be filed within 10 days from the entry of an FPO. In your motion you will argue that the judge made a mistake. If the judge denies your motion, you have the option of filing appeal.

Appeal the Entry of an FPO

An appeal of an FPO is made to the Superior Court of PA. A Notice of Appeal must be filed with the prothonotary of that court within 30 days of the entry of the FPO. A legal brief and other documents must also be filed according to the procedural rules of the court.  In your brief, you must argue to that court that the judge either made a mistake of law, a mistake of fact, or both.

Third, the FPO Expires in 3 years

The plaintiff has the option of filing a motion to renew the FPO. You will get notice of that and have another opportunity to argue against it.  You may prevail, and if you do not, you have the same options available to you as with the initial entry of the FPO.

About the Author

Veronica Baxter is a writer, blogger, and legal assistant operating out of the greater Philadelphia area. She frequently works for busy Philadelphia appeals attorney Todd Mosser, Esq.

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