Dinah Philadelphia

Intake Line: 215-645-2142   |   If you are in immediate danger, please call 911
Intake Line: 215-645-2142   
If you are in immediate danger, please call 911

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The Family Court System

Family Court is a division of the judicial system that hears civil cases related to domestic issues like domestic violence, divorce, child custody, child support, and spousal support.

Each county in Pennsylvania has its own Family Court. See “Where to file” for a list of Family Court locations in the Greater Philadelphia area.

Unlike the criminal court system, there is no right to an attorney in civil court. You do not need an attorney to file in civil court, and in fact, most people who go to Family Court do not have one. However, it is always preferable to have an attorney for any legal matter, and we recommend finding one to help guide you through the court process.

If you live in the Greater Philadelphia area, Dinah may be able to connect you with a pro bono (free) attorney. Please call our intake line at 215-645-2142 or contact us here for more information.

If you live elsewhere, we recommend contacting your county’s bar association or local legal aid organization to find an attorney licensed to practice in your area.

Protection From Abuse Orders (PFAs)

Pennsylvania law defines abuse as:

A Protection from Abuse order, or PFA, is a Pennsylvania civil court order that tells the abuser to stop the abuse or face serious legal consequences. There are three types of PFA Orders: Emergency, Temporary, and Final.

  • Emergency PFA Orders are very short-term protection orders that you can get when abuse occurs outside of normal business hours. You still need to file for a Temporary PFA Order and then a Final PFA Order to receive ongoing protection.
  • Temporary PFA Orders are short-term protection orders that you must file for during regular court business hours. Once you get a Temporary PFA Order, you will be assigned a date for a Final PFA hearing.
  • Final PFA Orders are long-term protection orders that can last up to 3 years. They can provide a variety of protections, as outlined below.

To get a PFA Order, you must:

  • Go to court and submit a PFA Petition (link to the PFA petition). Once you submit your petition, you will have a hearing before a judge. If the judge grants your petition, you will receive a Temporary PFA Order and a court date for a Final PFA hearing within the next ten days.
  • Take both copies of the Temporary PFA Order to the police and ask them to serve the defendant. The defendant must be served in person by the police before the Final PFA hearing. Note: Every police district has a Victim Services Officer (VSO) who specializes in domestic violence cases. You can always ask to speak with the VSO if you don’t feel comfortable with the officers at the front desk.
  • Attend the Final PFA hearing at the assigned date and time.

The victim (Plaintiff/Petitioner) must be an adult OR an adult guardian of a minor child AND have one of the following relationships to the abuser (Defendant):

  • Spouses or ex-spouses
  • Domestic partners
  • Current or former sexual or intimate (dating) partners
  • Persons related by blood or marriage (parents, children, siblings, cousins, in-laws, etc.)
  • Parents on behalf of minor children

You must file for a PFA Order in person at Family Court in the county in which the abuse occurred. Even if you have fled to another state or county, you must return to the county where the abuse occurred to file for the PFA Order.

File in person at the Family Court in your county:

Regular business hours (Temporary PFA):

Family Court
1501 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA 19102
(215) 686-7466
Hours: M-F, 8 am-4 pm

After hours (Emergency PFA):
Criminal Justice Center, Room B-03
1301 Filbert St, Philadelphia, PA
(215) 683-7280
Hours: holidays, weekends, after 4 pm M-F

Regular business hours:
Montgomery County Courthouse
2 E. Airy Street, Norristown, PA 19401
(610) 278-1191

After hours (Emergency PFA):
Call the Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-773-2424 and you will be connected to the Magistrate District Judge on call.

Regular business hours:

Prothonotary’s Family Court Office
100 North Main Street, Doylestown, PA 18901
(215) 348-6191
Hours: M-F, 8 am-3 pm

After hours (Emergency PFA):
Call 911 and ask for the Magisterial District Judge on call.
Hours: holidays, weekends, after 3 pm Monday –Thursday, or after 1 pm on Friday

Regular business hours:
Chester County Justice Center
201 West Market Street, 5th Floor, West Chester, PA 19380
(610) 344-6000
Hours: M-F, 8:30 am-3 pm

After hours (Emergency PFA):
Call 911 and ask for the District Judge on call.
Hours: holidays, weekends, after 3 pm Monday – Friday



Regular business hours:

Office of Judicial Support

201 W. Front St., Media, PA 19063

(610) 891-4370

Hours: M-F, 8 am-3 pm


After hours (Emergency PFA):

Call 911 and ask for the District Judge on call.

Hours: holidays, weekends, after 3 pm Monday – Friday

Once you’ve handed in your PFA Petition in court, you may have to wait a while before a judge is available to hear your case and grant the order. The wait time will depend on how busy the court is that day, but if you are filing in a particularly busy county like Philadelphia, you will likely have to wait for at least a few hours.

We recommend getting to court as soon as it opens and preparing for a long wait by bringing food, arranging childcare, and so forth. If you are applying in Philadelphia, a Dinah case manager may be able to go to court with you to help you through this process. Please call our intake line at 215-645-2142 or contact us here for more information. 

Please see “do I need an attorney in family court” above.

The abuser (Defendant) is not present at Emergency or Temporary PFA hearings. They will only know that you filed against them after you have an Emergency or Temporary PFA Order served on them. Once you receive the Temporary PFA order, you must provide a copy of it to the police. The police must then personally serve the Defendant with the temporary order and notify them of the date of the Final PFA hearing.

A Final PFA Order cannot be granted until the Defendant is served, so when filling out your Temporary PFA petition it is very important to include all possible addresses at which the police could find the Defendant.

If your abuser violates the PFA Order, call the police to file a report. Even if the police say that you don’t need a report or that they don’t want to write one, it is important to get one because this can be used as evidence in the Final PFA Hearing.

Yes, PFA Orders from Pennsylvania apply in all fifty states. Be sure to make copies of the Final PFA Order and bring one with you when you travel so that you can show it to local law enforcement if needed. We also recommend notifying state police of the PFA Order anywhere you travel to make sure that they have it on record before you arrive.

Unfortunately, there is no other form of restraining order available in PA. However, we recommend filing a police report for any instances of harassment, stalking, threats to you or your children’s safety, or other violent behavior. These acts may be considered criminal, and you may be able to press criminal charges for them even if you cannot get a PFA.

Divorce, Custody, Child Support & Spousal Support

In Pennsylvania divorce, custody, child support, and spousal support are each handled separately so you must file for each of them separately. You do not need to file for divorce before you can file for custody or support.

The simplest and fastest way to approach any of these issues is by agreement, meaning that you and your spouse/ex come up with an agreement for how assets and/or custody will be divided and submit that to the court for approval by a judge. If you cannot come to an agreement, you will need to have a judge make the decision for you at a court hearing.

In Pennsylvania a divorce will take a minimum of 3 months. Custody and support cases may take less time, especially if you and your spouse/ex can come up with an agreement without needing to see a judge. However, if you cannot agree and you decide to go through the courts, you will likely need to wait at least 3 months for the next available court date.

There are two tracks for divorce in PA: with consent and without consent:

Divorce with consent, 3301(c)

  • Both parties agree to the divorce
  • Generally quicker and simpler than a divorce without consent
  • Can be completed in as little as a few months if all paperwork is filed promptly

Divorce without consent, 3301(d)

  • One party does not consent to the divorce
  • One year of separation is required in order to file
  • One party must aver that the marriage is irretrievably broken
  • Takes on average 18 months to be completed

Regardless of what state you got married in, you must file for divorce in a state where one of you currently lives. To file for divorce in PA, you must be a resident for at least 6 months. If your spouse lives in PA and has filed for divorce here, you must find an attorney in PA to represent you in the divorce.

Refusal to give or receive a get is a form of domestic abuse. If your spouse is refusing to give or receive a get or if you have concerns that this may be an issue during the divorce process, we recommend contacting the Organization for Resolution of Agunot (ORA) here.

You must file for child custody and support in the state and county where the child lives. We recommend finding an attorney in that jurisdiction. It varies by jurisdiction whether or not you can file electronically. For information on where to file in the greater Philadelphia area, see “Where to file” above.

Like divorce, there are two main tracks for child custody and support in Pennsylvania: with consent and without consent.

Child custody includes both legal custody (who makes the decisions about the child) and physical custody (where the child lives). Keep in mind that unlike a divorce decree, a custody agreement is never final and is always open for modification until the child turns 18. Once the courts are involved, they will always be involved. For these reasons, we advise considering a legal custody agreement only in cases where you truly cannot come to a consensus with your spouse/ex.

Finally, your child is automatically entitled to child support, but you are not automatically entitled to spousal support.

Either party can always request to modify the custody agreement at any time until the child turns 18. To do this, file a petition to modify in family court.

If your spouse/ex violates the custody or support order, file a petition for contempt in family court.

In Pennsylvania, you are not automatically entitled to spousal support, but your child is automatically entitled to child support.

Any change to your income, including spousal and child support income, may affect your eligibility for public benefits. Refer to public benefits income guidelines for each of the five counties.

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