What is the First Step in Getting a Protective (PFA) Order?
The first step is to protect yourself and children in the household. It’s not required that you obtain a lawyer to get a Protection from Abuse Action. It is one of the rare instances where the court clerks are authorized and empowered by the statute to assist and give some legal advice. The reason behind that is because the judicial system, and the legislature, wants to protect victims of abuse at the earliest possible moment. It’s entirely possible to the extent that the abuse is eminent or ongoing that the person goes to the most local district court.
There’s usually a designated Protection from Abuse clerk. They will provide you with the forms. They’ll provide you with limited assistance, although they are quite helpful. The initial complaint will be reviewed by a judge. A Temporary Order to the extent that the person makes out abuse is granted that day. That’s the purpose and intent of the statute.
You can, of course, have an attorney that represents you at that stage, as well. It’s actually not required. It’s more important, in many instances, to have an attorney representing you at the final hearing, which, again, is in three weeks or so unless the defendant moves it up. That moves very quickly, too, from the plaintiff’s perspective. I think the legislature decided that it was more important to protect people who have been abused and get them access to the court and in order as soon as possible and then have whether or not a permanent order, which is actually only for two years at the first instance, granted at a later date.
At that later date, the usefulness of a lawyer is – they should be able to help you make sure that the evidence of abuse is admissible, not subject to hearsay, for example. If the person didn’t witness the abuse that had to do with the child, they might have to bring the child in. If there’s a document that needs to be authenticated, if there are police officers who hear admissions, for example, those people can be subpoenaed and brought in to the final hearing.
An attorney can help prepare the case so that the allegation of abuse is proven to the satisfaction of the court and also can assist in determining what the appropriate orders are for contact with children, possession of property, housing, spousal support, and child support, whether or not the court orders the defendant to engage in counseling, or Certified Batterers Intervention Program, or can’t use or possess alcohol or drugs before any contact with the children, that sort of thing. That happens as a formal proceeding at the final hearing, which is, again, in three weeks unless the defendant moves it up to an earlier hearing.