Pittsburgh Divorce Lawyer - Family Law - Custody - Child Support
Pittsburgh PA Divorce & Family Law Blog

Welcome to the blog for the Law Offices of Scott L. Levine, LLC, an information source for Pittsburgh Family Law news, PA and Allegheny County Family Court developments and articles on specific domestic relations law topics including custody and child support updates.

Law Offices of Scott L. Levine, LLC
425 1st Ave - 6th Floor
 Pittsburgh, PA 15219
(412) 303-9566 

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Thursday, January 3, 2013

Domestic Violence can be Deadly serious - Protection from Abuse Orders can help keep you safe

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE VICTIMS

Domestic Violence affects women and men from all walks of life and all backgrounds. Knowledge about patterns of abuse may prove helpful to remove yourself from an abusive situation, although the complexities of daily life often leave many people coping with threats, abuse and the constant fear of violence.

DIFFICULTIES OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

Make no mistake about it, leaving an abusive situation can be very, very difficult for many people for various reasons. You may have children together, or you may be married or living together or financially dependent on the abuser. You may think they will change. We're not here to assign blame or make judgments; we're here to make you aware of remedies available to you so that you can remove yourself (and your children) from an unhealthy and dangerous situation.

LEGAL REMEDIES FOR VIOLENCE OR ABUSE

First and foremost, if you are in imminent fear of bodily harm, you should immediately call the police. If there was an altercation involving domestic violence, the police will arrest the perpetrator and remove them from wherever you are.

The police also have the discretion to ask the person to leave the premises if they determine that there is not probable cause for an arrest.

However in both instances they will usually direct you to file a "PFA" or Protection from Abuse. This is Pennsylvania's name for what is commonly referred to as a "Restraining Order." 

WHERE TO OBTAIN A PFA - Allegheny Court of Common Pleas - Family Division - 440 Ross Street

In Allegheny County a Temporary Petition for Protection from Abuse may be obtained in person Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. until 2 p.m. on the Third Floor of the Family Court facility located at 440 Ross Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15219.

(Note: PFA's are available in every county in Pennsylvania. Each county has it's own procedures but the protections received are the same. For more information about the specific procedure in your county you should call your local Magistrate or Court.)

WHAT TO EXPECT

Upon arriving at court, you will be required to fill out a petition detailing the facts including any: abuse, stalking, harassment, threats or use of physical force to cause bodily injury. You will then wait to meet with a judge who needs to sign the order granting temporary petition.

The court will provide you with information about having the accuser served and about receiving free legal representation at your final hearing. 

HOW LONG IS A TEMPORARY PFA VALID?

A temporary protection from abuse order will be valid from the date it is issued until the date of the final hearing which will be scheduled within ten days of the date of your petition.

EMERGENCY PROTECTION FROM ABUSE (EPFA)

If you need to get a PFA in Allegheny County after the PFA office has closed at the Family Court Building, you may file for an Emergency PFA at your local Magisterial District Judge's office during their regular business hours.

NIGHT COURT - PITTSBURGH MUNICIAPL COURT - 660 1st Avenue

You may also go to the Pittsburgh Municipal Court Building Located at 660 1st Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15219. This resource, often referred to as "Night Court" is available 7 days a week 24 hours a day.

Note that this "Night Court" is not available during the hours Family Court is open for PFA petitions; you would use this resource when family court is closed, or during nights or weekends. The procedure for an emergency PFA is similar in that you must prepare a petition requesting that a judge grant you emergency protection.

HOW LONG IS AN EPFA VALID?

When granted an "EPFA" is valid for 24 hours or until the next business day. If you wish to extend the protection beyond 24 hours, you will have to complete the process detailed above at the Family Court building downtown.

WHAT DOES A TEMPORARY PFA ORDER DO?

A temporary PFA Order may do any or all of the following:

(1) It will evict the abuser from your residence until the final hearing;
(2) It can order the removal of firearms and weapons;
(3) It may award you temporary custody of minor children;
(4) It will prohibit the abuser from any contact with you either directly or indirectly; and
(5) It will prohibit the abuser from coming to your place of employment or the children's school.

WHAT IF THERE IS A VIOLATION?

If there is a violation of the temporary order, you should call the police. Upon a showing of probable cause, the police can issue a warrant for arrest on the grounds of Indirect Criminal Contempt, and arrest and jail the abuser.

THE FINAL PFA HEARING

The temporary PFA Order will list a date and time for your final hearing. As noted above, free legal counsel is available to all plaintiffs in PFA cases. Before the final hearing you will meet with the attorney assigned to you (or you may retain private counsel) to discuss the case and your wishes.

Your attorney will be able to attempt to negotiate with the defendant or their counsel in an effort to resolve the matter before heading into a final hearing before the judge. If there is no ability to agree on a mutually acceptable settlement (which may include a "full" PFA for up to three years) then the case will proceed to a hearing before the judge.

Depending on the circumstances you may need to obtain a "continuance" which is an extension of time where another final hearing is scheduled. This could occur if the abuser was not served or if you need time to subpoena witnesses or police to testify on your behalf. The defendant may also request a continuance to obtain counsel or gather witnesses. In either case, the temporary PFA will remain in effect.

However, in cases where the defendant has been served, the matter will be resolved in some capacity on the date of the final hearing. That might include extending the temporary PFA for several months, entering into a Civil Order or entering a PFA Order for up to three years.

The Final PFA Order may also award you custody of minor children, eviction of the abuser from your residence and financial support.

LOCAL RESOURCES FOR VICTIMS

In Allegheny County Victims of Domestic Violence may call the Women's Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh. They have a 24-Hour Hot-line which is: (412) 687-8005.

REMINDER TO VICTIMS

You are not alone. There are compassionate caring people out there waiting to help you stop an abusive situation. There are thousands (or millions) of people across the country (and world) who are the unwilling victims of emotional abuse and physical abuse. There are also thousands
(or millions) of survivors who struggle every day to put the abuse behind them and move on with their lives. Once you decide to empower yourself to leave an abusive relationship, you're one day closer to living the life you deserve, free of violence and free of fear. There are the legal remedies listed above, but there are also support groups, counseling, therapy and professional and religious groups out there to help you. You are not alone; You are strong.
Thu, January 3, 2013 | link 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Choosing the Best Family Law Attorney for You

Choosing the right lawyer to handle your family law matter is an enormously important decision, and one that should be made carefully after fully reviewing your needs and matching them with the professional who can best serve you and see that your wishes are fulfilled.

There are a number of tangible characteristics and intangible qualities that may be important to you in your search for hiring a great lawyer. First off, you should consider the lawyer's experience in the areas of law for which you require assistance. How long have they been practicing in the jurisdiction where your case will be filed? Do they have experience outside of that particular practice area which may complement the issues that are likely to arise in your case?

Next, are they knowledgeable about the law, local rules of court and filing requirements? Do they focus their practice on one main area or do they have a "general practice?" Are they familiar with the local judges and their individual courtroom procedures? Are they knowledgeable about the other lawyers in their practice area and are they well known by their peers?

Has this lawyer handled the types of legal issues for which you are seeking assistance? Are they competent to handle your matter from beginning to end? Are they diligent with their work and provide a quality work product? Do they maintain contacts with outside experts who they may engage to assist with more complex litigation? Are they familiar with attorneys outside their area of expertise who may assist you on unrelated legal issues which may arise during their representation? 

Is this attorney comfortable handling all aspects of your case? Are they able to fully answer your questions? Do they listen to you, really listen to you while you talk? Do they provide honest answers, that may not be what you want to hear, but that may save you time and money down the road? Are they able to provide you with a reasonable outline of what to expect from your matter, and do they point out issues that will most likely arise during your case?

Is the prospective counsel upfront about their expectations for your case, including the estimated time and expense of their representation? Can they provide references from satisfied clients in all areas of their practice? Do they fully explain the terms of their representation and provide all clients with a detailed written retainer letter prior to providing any legal services?

Do you feel comfortable with this person and their knowledge, skill set and understanding of the law? Is this someone you will be able to work with for an extended period of time? Does the lawyer put you at ease and reassure you by explaining the issues and setting forth a detailed strategy?

Does this person look professional? Are they well dressed and articulate? Do they have an attention to details? Are they confident yet humble? Are they self-assured but not slick? Are they quick witted but not stuffy? Do they have the ability to be lawyerly in court and while advocating for you, but also have the ability to relate to you personally and break things down into regular English explanations so that there is no confusion on your part? Do they communicate well in person and in their writing?

Do they make you feel like you are their only client? It is a wonderful thing when you get prompt return calls or emails with substantive answers within hours, not days. All lawyers are busy and spend a good amount of time at court, but does this person communicate with you promptly by returning phone calls and emails in a timely manner? Are they available when you need them including in the evening or on weekends? Do you get to speak to the supervising attorney directly or are you often dealing with support staff or associate attorneys?

Do they make use of the latest technology using mobile devices while at court? Are they able to provide electronic copies of all the documents received and sent in your case in real time, without delay? Are they always professional in their correspondence with you and opposing parties? Are you kept abreast of all facets of your matter? Are all your questions answered as they arise? Do you receive updates regularly? Are you consulted before all aspects of your case?

Do they enjoy what they do? This is important. Have they made the decision to handle this type of law in order to help people improve their lives? Do you get the sense that this person is happy doing this type of work and will bring enthusiasm and energy to your case?

Again, are you comfortable with this person? Do you feel you are given the right amount of attention? Are all your questions answered? Are you given value for your money? Is this someone who will work hard for you, in order to achieve the best outcome possible? Do they seem at ease and comfortable?

The above of course is simply a review of some of the things to look for in choosing your lawyer. There are also intangibles that cannot be listed such as the feeling that the person just "gets it" and understands what needs to be done and is on the same page as you from the outset. Other times, you will know right away that this is not the right lawyer for you. Regardless, you should not have to make any excuses for not choosing an attorney and you should feel confident and comfortable when you find the right lawyer for you.

Finally note that some lawyers provide free consultations either over the phone or in person. Others offer reduced fees for first meetings. Prices range across the board, but pay attention to the fine print. There may be several people working on your case with different hourly rates. Most lawyers request a retainer upfront which is an amount kept in their trust account and used towards future billing. Some matters may be handled on a flat-fee basis for a one-time attendance at court, while most of your fees will likely be billed at an hourly rate in increments of six minutes. It is important to understand what the fees will be, and whether you are able to afford the lawyer. Do you have the resources, or the ability to obtain the funds required for your case? If not are you able to save up the needed funds or provide payments for the required work?

The matter for which you are seeking assistance is likely not a pleasant event, in fact it may be devastating and filled with raw emotions, but a good lawyer will help you to temper the emotions and provide professional guidance keeping you on track for the most favorable outcome. It does not have to be a long drawn out battle; sometimes that is unavoidable, but a great negotiator can make all the difference.

So with that, good luck with your lawyer search. There are many resources available on-line to assist you. You should talk to friends, family, co-workers and neighbors. You should make calls to various firms and set up face to face meetings with the lawyers that make you most comfortable.
Tue, January 1, 2013 | link 


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Please freely browse the rest of this website for general information or call us to schedule a meeting to discuss your specific questions.

Law Offices of Scott L. Levine, LLC
425 1st Ave - 6th Fl., Pittsburgh, PA 15219
Phone: (412) 303-9566 - Fax: (412) 202-3852

The material provided on pghdivorce.com is provided as general information only and in no way does it constitute legal advice or establish any attorney-client relationship. No one should rely on this information when making important decisions about a legal matter. If you are in need of legal assistance you should contact a lawyer who practices in the jurisdiction where you live.