The Delaware Courts will be closed Wednesday, June 19, 2024 in honor of Juneteenth. Justice of the Peace Courts 11 (New Castle County), 7 (Kent County), and 3 (Sussex County) will remain open.

Understanding the Protection From Abuse Process

Quick Escape

What is a Protection From Abuse (PFA) Order?

A PFA Order is an order of Family Court ordering someone to stop abusing another person, and may include other relief, such as ordering the abuser to stay away from the person being abused. Abuse is defined as any threatening or harmful conduct including serious emotional harm.

Who can file a Petition for Protection from Abuse?

You can file a PFA Petition against any person with whom you have any of the following types of relationship:

  1. Spouse or former spouse;
  2. Persons living together and holding themselves out as a couple (with or without a child in common);
  3. Persons living separate and apart but who have a child in common;
  4. Persons in a current or former dating relationship;*
    *This would be a person you “dated”, “went out with”, or were in a “courtship” with. You might call them your “boyfriend”, “girlfriend”, or “fiancé”, or maybe just a person you were “seeing” and spent time together in a potentially romantic way.
  5. Any of these family relationships:
    • Parent or child (including step- and in-law),
    • Brother or sister (including in-law),
    • Son or daughter (including in-law and where parental rights have been terminated),
    • Grandparent or grandchild; or
  6. Any other family member you are related to by blood, adoption or marriage but only if you reside “in one home under one head”.*
    *For example, cousins renting separate rooms in a boarding house might not qualify. But those same cousins residing in the home of their grandparents would qualify.

What is abuse?

Pursuant to 10 Del. C. §1041 Abuse means conduct which constitutes the following:

  1. Intentionally or recklessly causing or attempting to cause physical injury, or a sexual offense as defined in 11 Del. C. §761.
  2. Intentionally or recklessly placing or attempting to place another person in reasonable apprehension of physical injury or sexual offense to such person or another.
  3. Intentionally or recklessly damaging, destroying or taking the tangible property of another person, including legal documents. This also incudes inflicting physical injury on any companion animal or service animal.
  4. Engaging in the course of alarming or distressing conduct in a manner which is likely to cause fear or emotional distress or to provoke a violent or disorderly response.
  5. Trespassing on or in property of another person or on or in property from which the trespasser has been excluded by court order.
  6. Child Abuse as defined in Chapter 9 of Title 16.
  7. Unlawful imprisonment, kidnapping, interference with custody and coercion as defined in Title 11. 
  8. Intentionally causing or attempting to cause an adult to be financially dependent by doing either or both of the following:
    1. Maintaining overwhelming control over the individual’s financial resources, including withholding access to money or credit cards or forbidding attendance at school or employment without reasonable justification, and against the individual’s will.
    2. Stealing or defrauding of money or assets, exploiting the victim’s resources for personal gain, or withholding physical resources such as food, clothing, necessary medications, or shelter.
  9. Any other conduct which a reasonable person under the circumstances would find threatening or harmful.  
  10. Any of the following acts when used as a method of coercion, control, punishment, or intimidation of a person who has a close bond of affection to the companion animal*:
    1. Inflicting or attempting to inflict physical injury on the companion animal.
    2. Engaging in conduct which is likely to cause the person to fear that the companion animal will be physically injured.
    3. Engaging in cruelty to the companion animal under § 1325 of Title 11.
  11. * A “companion animal” means an animal kept primarily for companionship instead of as any of the following: a working animal, a service animal as defined in Section 4502 of Title6, an animal kept primarily as a source of income, including livestock as defined in Section 7700 of Title 3.

If You Want to File for a Protection From Abuse (PFA) Order

How does someone file for a Protection From Abuse (PFA) Order?

Someone wanting to file a Protection from Abuse petition can do so without an attorney. Court staff will supply the necessary forms, or they can be printed from the PFA Forms page and volunteers from a Domestic Violence Advocacy Program may also be available to help.

Filing a PFA petition:

  1. A petition can be filed in person by going to the Family Court between the hours of 8:30 am and 4:30 pm
  2. OR
  3. A petition can be filed by email at

The following forms are required to be filed with the Court:

  1. Protection From Abuse Petition (Form #450)
  2. Information Sheet (Form #240)

If the person filing believes they are in immediate danger of abuse, they may ask for an emergency (ex parte) hearing that same day. However, requests for an emergency PFA hearing filed after 3:30pm will be heard the morning of the next business day. Therefore, if they will be asking for an emergency (ex parte) hearing, they should either go to the Family Court or email the completed forms early in the day.

Necessary forms for filing for an emergency hearing can be found on the Protection From Abuse (PFA) Forms page.

The additional forms required to request an ex parte hearing are:

  1. Affidavit for Emergency Exparte Hearing (Form 656)
  2. Affidavit for PFA Exparte Order (Form 654)

What happens at an emergency ex parte hearing?

If an emergency hearing is held, the Petitioner will go before a Judicial Officer the same day or the next business day. The ex parte hearing will either take place in person or via Zoom. Court staff will ask the Petitioner questions to determine if the hearing will take place in person or by Zoom. In the hearing, the Judicial Officer will ask questions to assess the Petitioner’s immediate safety needs. If an Ex Parte Order is granted by the Judicial Officer, it will remain in effect until the next Court proceeding date. The Petitioner will receive a copy of the emergency Ex Parte PFA Order in person or by email, depending on where the hearing took place. They will also receive the date and time for a Case Review. The Case Review is the next step in the PFA process. The person the PFA was filed against (the Respondent) will be given notice of the PFA petition, any existing Ex Parte Order and the date and time for the Case Review. Both the Petitioner and the Respondent will participate in the Case Review.

Note about service: Family Court will serve the Respondent. It is not necessary for the Petitioner to arrange for service. The Respondent will be served with a copy of the petition, the Case Review notice and the Ex Parte Order (when applicable). If the Court is unable to serve the Respondent before the Case Review, the Petitioner will be provided with additional information from the Court.

What happens at Case Review?

View a video entitled "The PFA Hearing: What You Can Expect, A step-by-step guide through the PFA process .

La audiencia de protección por abuso: lo que puede anticipar (El proceso paso a paso)
The PFA Hearing: What you can expect, A step by step guide through the PFA process

Consent process

The Petitioner and the Respondent will receive an email with the login information for the Case Review, which in most cases, will take place using Zoom. At Case Review, a Family Court mediator will meet with each party separately to help determine if an agreement can be reached on the terms of the PFA Order. If they are able to reach an agreement (known as a Consent), they will go before the Judicial Officer. The Judicial Officer will ask questions to make sure both parties understand the Consent Order. The signed Consent Order will be provided to both parties that same day by mail or email.

It is important to note that a PFA Consent Order is not a finding of abuse by the Court or an admission of guilt by the Respondent. It is simply an agreement on specific conditions. A Consent Order cannot be used as evidence of abuse in any future hearing.

If the Petitioner and the Respondent are not able to reach an agreement during the Case Review, then a Trial will take place on a separate date.

Default Hearing

If the Respondent is served by Family Court and given notice to attend the Case Review but does not appear, the Petitioner will go before the Judicial Officer for a Default hearing. At a Default hearing, the Petitioner will tell the Court what the Respondent has done to cause the Petitioner and/or the Petitioner’s children harm or fear of being harmed. The Judicial Officer will make a decision about whether or not to grant the PFA Order based on the evidence and testimony.


If both parties participate in the Case Review and do not agree to a Consent Order, the Judicial Officer will conduct a Trial. The Petitioner and the Respondent will each be given a chance to present their side of the story and any evidence that they may have. If witnesses are going to be called to help tell the story, the person calling the witness must ask the Court in advance to subpoena the witness. Parties may also use such things as photographs and tape recordings. Parties are not usually allowed to use doctors' notes or letters or police reports unless the doctor or police officer is present at the Trial.

The Judicial Officer may ask both the Petitioner and the Respondent questions. At the end of the Trial, the Judicial Officer will decide whether he or she believes that abuse occurred. If so, an Order of Protection will be signed and copies will be given to both the Petitioner and the Respondent. In most cases, the Trial will take place using Zoom. If the Court requires parties to appear in person, they will be given notice to do so.


It may be unlawful for the Respondent to purchase, receive, transport, or possess firearms or ammunition pursuant to Federal Law under Section 18 A 922 (g) (8) of the United States Code while subject to a Protection from Abuse Order.

What do Protection From Abuse (PFA) Orders usually say?

PFA Orders may provide for any or all of the following relief:

  • No more abuse
  • No contact with the Petitioner
  • Petitioner may be given exclusive use of the home or of certain possessions
  • Temporary custody (What is Child Custody)
  • Conditions of Visitation
  • Child support or support for the Petitioner
  • Payment of expenses
  • Surrender of firearms
  • Counseling
  • Grant the petitioner the exclusive care, custody, or control of any companion animal owned, possessed, leased, kept, or held by the petitioner, the respondent, or a minor child residing in the residence or household of the petitioner or respondent.
  • Order the respondent to stay away from the companion animal and forbid the respondent from taking, transferring, encumbering, concealing, harming, or otherwise disposing of the companion animal.
  • Order the respondent to return specified legal documents, such as passport, immigration papers, or social security card.
  • Any other relief that might help prevent future violence

How long does a Protection From Abuse (PFA) Order usually last?

Temporary Orders

The initial duration of a temporary ex parte order is up to 15 days.

The order may be extended to up to 30 days if the PFA trial is rescheduled:

  • To accomplish service of process on the Respondent, or
  • At the request of a party for good cause.

Permanent Orders

The “protective” provisions of a PFA order by consent, default or after a full hearing can last up to 2 years and sometimes longer. This includes:

  • No further abuse;
  • Stay 100 yards away from petitioner, residence and workplace;
  • No contact (communication) of any kind; and
  • No firearms, ammunition, or deadly weapons.

The protective provisions may be ordered for more than 2 years upon consent of the parties, or upon a finding of aggravating circumstances including:

  • Physical Injury
  • Use of a firearm
  • Past DV convictions
  • Repeated violations of prior PFAs
  • Any circumstance where there is an immediate and ongoing danger to the petitioner or any member of his/her household.

“Ancillary” provisions in a PFA order are limited to 1 year. These include:

  • Custody of and Visitation with children;
  • Payment of Support; and
  • Temporary Possession of homes and personal property.

Extension and early termination

The party who wants to change a PFA Order in some way may file with Family Court a form called a Motion to Modify, Extend or Rescind Order of Protection from Abuse (form #456).

A PFA order of less than 2 years may be extended by the court after a hearing but can only exceed 2 years upon a finding of aggravating circumstances.

If You Are the Respondent...

How do Respondents know when a Protection From Abuse (PFA) Petition is filed against them?

If you are named as a respondent in a Protection from Abuse Petition, you will personally receive a copy of the petition and a summons notifying you of the date, time and place for the full hearing. If the petitioner has been given an Emergency (ex parte) Order, you will be given a certified copy of that Order at the same time. The Emergency (ex parte) order stays in effect until after the full hearing is over and you must obey it as you would any court Order.

What happens if someone disobeys a Protection From Abuse (PFA) Order?

The violation of a PFA Order is a crime punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,300. If a respondent disobeys a PFA Order, he or she is subject to arrest and, if convicted, may be fined or sent to jail.

A petitioner who believes an Order has been violated can call the police or may go to Family Court to report the violation.

A PFA Order is effective even if the petitioner contacts the respondent or wants to reconcile. A respondent must do what the Order says, no matter what the petitioner does, or asks the respondent to do, unless the Court modifies or vacates the Order.

Can Protection From Abuse (PFA) Orders be changed or withdrawn?

The party who wants to change a PFA Order in some way may file with Family Court a form called a Motion to Modify, Extend or Rescind Order of Protection from Abuse (form # 456). The motion form and assistance is available at the Resource Center in the Family Court buildings in Kent and Sussex Counties and at Family Court Intake in the Leonard L. Williams Justice Center.

The Court may modify a non-consent order only if the party asking for the modification proves that there is a good reason for the change. The Court may modify a consent order if both parties agree or if the respondent has been found in contempt of the consent order.

Can I appeal the Court's decision?

Orders entered by a Commissioner may be appealed to a Judge of the Family Court by filing a Request for Review of a Commissioner's Order. Appeals from Commissioner's orders must be filed with the Family Court within thirty (30) days of the order. Orders entered by a Judge may be appealed to the Delaware Supreme Court. A Notice of Appeal form must be filed within thirty (30) days of the Family Court Judge's order.

What happens after the Protection From Abuse (PFA) Order expires?

To get relief that extends beyond the expiration of the PFA order, either party may file for custody, visitation, child or spousal support, or divorce and property division.  Forms for these petitions are available from the Clerk of the Family Court.

What is a Protection From Abuse (PFA) Rule to Show Cause Hearing?

A PFA Rule to Show Cause hearing is a review hearing before a Family Court Commissioner in which a PFA Respondent would need to show cause as to why he/she has or has not followed through with the recommendations of the DVCC certified agency.  If the Respondent has followed through with the recommendations of the DVCC certified treatment, the Respondent shall provide the appropriate documentation at the PFA Rule to Show Cause Hearing.  For more information on this topic, please see the PFA Order and Compliance FAQ.

Help and Support

Help and Support is available from the following sources. For additional services, please see the service provider listing.

Family Court:
New Castle County 255-0300
Kent County 672-1000
Sussex County 855-7400

24-hour Domestic Violence Hotlines:
New Castle County 762-6110
Kent & Sussex Counties 422-8058
New Castle County Crisis Hotline 761-9100
Kent & Sussex Crisis Hotline (800) 262-9800
Child Abuse Hotline (800) 292-9582

Victim Advocacy Programs:
New Castle County 255-0420
Kent County 672-1075
Sussex County 856-5843
Delaware Coalition Against Domestic Violence (800) 701-0456
Domestic Violence Coordinating Council 255-0405

Attorney General:
New Castle County 255-0112
Kent County 739-4211
Sussex County 856-5353

Legal Services:
New Castle County 478-8680
Kent County 674-8500