Domestic violence continues to be a serious problem. The physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse can cause substantial harm to the victim. Sadly, even children can get caught in the crossfire. In order to protect these victims, Pennsylvania law allows victims to request a protection order by filing a Protection from Abuse (PFA) petition.
Generally, minors are not permitted to initiate lawsuits. However, not allowing a child to request a protection order due to their age would be absurd. Minors need protection from abuse just like adults do. To that end, the law allows for any parent, adult household member, or a guardian ad litem to file on their behalf.
This right for an adult to file a PFA for a child is enormously beneficial to child victims. However, in practice, adults often fail to file on the minor’s behalf. One of the reasons this occurs is simple: When the petitioner is a victim as well, the petitioner will file the complaint for him- or herself and incorporate the facts of the abused child into that complaint thinking the child will get protected too. The result can be disastrous.
Why? Judges do not like to have Protection from Abuse cases turn into custody cases. When including a child into your own petition, the judge can make the mistake of thinking you are including the child’s abuse as a way to obtain custody rather than for the reason you are including the child’s abuse: to protect the child. Making matters worse, defendants in these situations are more than willing to make that argument to the judge. Should a judge agree with the defendant, the child’s case is now much more difficult.
One of the reasons a judge may agree with the defendant in these situations is because the evidence included in your petition is to demonstrate how you were abused. All evidence is framed towards that conclusion. When a child’s abuse is added to your petition, even though it may not be your intention, the result is that the child’s abuse is being used to prove your abuse rather than to show that the child was abused.
In order to prevent this situation, the solution is to file more than one petition. As stated previously, you are permitted to file a petition for yourself and then file a petition on behalf of the child. By filing multiple petitions, you can use the child’s abuse in your case to prove your abuse and then in the child’s case to prove the child’s abuse.
Of course, filing multiple petitions is more difficult and time consuming on petitioners, so discuss with an attorney experienced in PFA cases whether filing two petitions is right for you.
Attorney Lauren D’Alessandro specializes in family law and represents clients in Bucks County, Montgomery County, and Philadelphia County. Her office is located in Newtown and she invites you to schedule a consultation. You can contact her here. She looks forward to hearing from you!