Protective Orders

Those of us who are over 30 years old may remember Pennsylvania’s “peace bonds,” orders issued by justices of the peace requiring that a troublesome person leave others in peace. Peace bonds were abolished many years ago and were later replaced in part with the Protection from Abuse Act.

The Protection from Abuse Act gives local district judges and the local county court judges the power to quell domestic violence by forbidding contact between “family or household members, sexual or intimate partners or persons who share biological parenthood.” The Act further defines “family or household members” as “spouses or persons who have been spouses, persons living as spouses or who lived as spouses, parents and children, other persons related by consanguinity or affinity, current or former sexual or intimate partners or persons who share biological parenthood.”

In a recent case, a sister who co-owned a family business with her brother secured a Protection Order in county court against him
after he forced his way into her office and scuffled with her. The brother appealed, claiming that they were not members of the same household and that their dispute arose from their business problems and was not related to any domestic violence.

The appeals court disagreed and upheld the Protection Order. The court noted that previous versions of the statute did limit Protection from Abuse proceedings to persons living in the same household. But the court reviewed a long series of amendments to the Act that progressively expanded it to apply to persons related by blood, by marriage, by intimate relationship, or by sharing children, without regard to whether they reside under the same roof.

Generally, the Protection from Abuse Act is a response to domestic violence, and the courts strive to limit Protection from Abuse proceedings to those that arise from personal relationships. When violence erupts between neighbors, strangers, or other persons who do not fall within the relationships identified in the Protection from Abuse Act, the courts simply cannot issue protective orders.

Pennsylvania’s Crimes Code does serve in some situations to bridge the gap between the Protection from Abuse Act and the former
peace bond system. District justices and county judges hearing criminal cases can issue orders that a criminal defendant or anyone else
involved in a criminal case is forbidden from further contact with another person and must maintain a specified geographic distance from the other person.

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