Divorce, Custody, and Domestic Violence: Using The Law To Protect Victims

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), nearly 20 people a minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. Emotional abuse is even more common. As a family law attorney, I work with a victim of some sort of abuse at least once a week.

It’s incredibly frustrating that abuse is so common, but it is wonderful to know that I am able to use the legal system to help my clients escape the situation they are in. I frequently help clients who are going through a divorce or battling over child custody get Protection From Abuse (PFA) Orders.

A PFA, which many people call a restraining order, is a way to shield yourself from your abuser while your divorce or child custody case is pending. It is a legal order from a court that restricts the rights of an abuser. A PFA can require that your abuser:

  • Stop contacting you,
  • Leave your shared residence,
  • Give up temporary custody of your children,
  • Pay you temporary child support,
  • Give up firearms and any gun permits, and/or
  • Seek counseling.

Seeking a PFA is like filing a new case because it is a legal action in and of itself. It is not part of the divorce or child custody case, nor is it a criminal charge. A PFA can, however, significantly impact a divorce or child custody case, or lead to criminal charges being filed against an abuser.

An abuser who violates a PFA may be charged with “indirect criminal contempt of court.” A judge will hear the case and decide if the PFA was actually violated, and if so, what punishment is appropriate. The judge can throw the offender in jail or order them to pay a hefty fine. PFA violations are also taken very seriously by the family courts, which can consider them when dividing up property or awarding custody.

If you are being abused, it is important to seek help. In addition to contacting our office to handle the legal aspects of a divorce or child custody case where a PFA or other restraining order may be necessary, you may also want to reach out to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence for local shelter and resource information at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). If you are in immediate danger, you should call 911.