Thursday, January 3, 2013
Domestic Violence can be Deadly serious - Protection from Abuse Orders can help keep you safe
Thu, January 3, 2013 | link
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.
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
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
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
(2) It can order the removal of firearms and weapons;
(3) It may award you temporary custody of minor
(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
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
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
(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.
Tuesday, January 1, 2013
Choosing the Best Family Law Attorney for You
Tue, January 1, 2013 | link
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
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.