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New Alabama Protection From Abuse Act Becomes Law

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

  • By: James Opp Smith
  • Organization: Legal Services Alabama

Gov. Riley signed new Act No. 2010-538 on April 21, 2010 - the Act becomes effective July 1, 2010

After six years in the making, ACADV finally was successful in gaining passage of SB-134, which became Alabama Act. No. 2010-538 on April 21, 2010. The new statute will repeal the current Protection from Abuse Act and replace it with this new PFA statute.

The most significant substantive provisions of the new law expand coverage to dating relationships while eliminating coverage to household members who are not involved in a romantic or sexual relationship. As a result, fights between siblings or between parents and their children will no longer be covered under the act. The important factor here is the new focus on domestic violence as a function of a present or former intimate or romantic relationship.

Another significant provision provides for final PFA orders, absent a judicial declaration to the contrary, to be of permanent duration rather than sunsetting after one year.

A few of the highlights of the new PFA statute include the following new provisions:

1. It significantly changes the relationship definition of who may file for a protection order to include someone with whom the plaintiff

d) has a dating relationship;

(A dating relationship is further defined to mean someone with whom the plaintiff has or has had a recent frequent, intimate association, primarily characterized by the expectation of affectionate or sexual involvement within the last six months. A dating relationship does not include a casual or business relationship.)

e) is or has been a current or former household member.

(A household member is more narrowly defined as a person who maintains or has maintained a living arrangement with the defendant where he or she is in, or was engaged in, a romantic or sexual relationship. Gone are the torturous familial relationships within the 6th degree of consanguinity that should remove fights between siblings, distant relative at family reunions, roommates, or fraternity or sorority members)

2. It removes the procedurally confusing concept of a civil PFA case being intertwined with a criminal case. A PFA case will now be the exclusive province of civil or domestic relations proceedings. This shift should lead to clarity in the definitions we attach to different court orders that are designed to protect victims. Not that there were ever very many PFA orders that were properly prosecuted as ancillary to criminal proceedings, the fact that they could be brought in a criminal case led to the sloppy use of nomenclature and references to conditions or bond and conditions of probation as protection orders. This slippery use of language led many victims and lay advocates to believe that a condition of release over which a victim had no control was the same thing as a PFA order over which the victim was the clear moving party. Problems inevitably arose when criminal cases were dismissed by the prosecution or the criminal court, often without the victim's involvement, thereby dissolving the conditions of release that the victim had unwittingly relied upon as her protection order. Still further were the blended problems that arose when municipal courts that have only criminal misdemeanor jurisdiction took it upon themselves to issue what they referred to as protection orders against criminal defendants after finding them not guilty. Hopefully this new emphasis will begin to rid the judicial system of these and other aberrant practices.

3. It clearly provides that if there is an existing child custody or child support order, a PFA case may be filed where venue otherwise exists and an ex parte order may be issued. It further provides that the case should then be transferred to the court that issued the existing custody or support order.

4. It removes the confusing and illogical prohibition against filing in PFA case is a county different from where a current criminal case is pending and allows the victim to prosecute a PFA case in the county to which she fled, even if a criminal prosecution is pending in her home county. Once again, the new statute has the effect of driving a wedge between civil PFA cases and criminal prosecutions.

5. Allows the incorporation of existing child custody and child support orders into a new PFA case.

6. An ex parte order remains effective until the court holds a final order in a PFA case.

7. A final protection order will now be of permanent duration unless the court limits its duration to a shorter period of time. Under the current law, the PFA order sunsets after one year unless the court affirmatively orders that it last for longer or shorter period of time.

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