Extension of a PFA: Case Notes

Question: When an existing Protection From Abuse Order is violated, must the PFA be extended?

Answer: The PFA must be extended if the PFA is violated AND the Plaintiff asks for an extension at the same time.

In the 2014 case of Trout v. Strube, the Pennsylvania Superior Court dealt with a 3-year PFA that was granted in 2010. In 2011, the Defendant sent a non-threatening and non-disparaging letter to his ex and his daughter. While the contents of the letters were innocuous, the very act of sending them was indirect criminal contempt ("ICC") of the underlying PFA. Accordingly, the Defendant was sentenced to jail for 30 days for ICC.

Fast forward 2 years to 2013, and the Plaintiff sought to extend the original 3-year PFA by another 3 years, based upon the 2011 ICC. The relevant law (23 Pa.C.S.A. 6114(b)(4)) provides that "upon conviction for indirect criminal contempt and at the request of the Plaintiff, the court shall also grant an extension of the protection order for an additional term".

The problem here was that at the time of the ICC in 2011, the Plaintiff did not request an extension of the protective order and no extension was granted. Instead, the Plaintiff waited until 2013 to ask for an extension based upon the 2011 ICC.

The trial court turned down the request for a PFA extension and the Superior Court had to decide whether the court was required to extend the PFA. The Plaintiff noted that the extension is mandatory in that the law states that the court SHALL grant an extension (not MAY grant). But the Superior Court interpreted the law as applying only to the time of the original ICC case. Here the Plaintiff asked the court for an extension two years later.

Moral of the story: Experienced legal counsel can guide a client through the maze of the law towards a result that would otherwise be lost.

Second moral of the story: The PA legislature is more interested in appeasing voters then due process. Courts understand the complexity of the situation. Here, the violation was not threatening or aggressive - merely stupid. The request was then made 2 years later. Most PFA's are requested and granted in good faith. However, a disturbing minority of PFA's are requested and granted for strategic reasons (to kick someone out, get custody etc.).

Incidentally, the Superior Court noted that the term of the extension is left up to the court. After a conviction for violating a PFA, the court must grant a concurrent request for an extension But the Court could grant an extension for 3 years or 3 weeks. This makes sense. A threatening or humiliating violation should result in the maximum extension of the original PFA. But a non-threatening violation can be a different story.