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Know the Laws: Rhode Island

UPDATED October 15, 2012

Domestic Violence Restraining Orders

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A restraining order is a civil order that provides protection from harm by someone who is or was a family member, cohabitant, or someone who you date or used to date.

Basic information

back to topWhat is a domestic violence restraining order?

A restraining order is a court order that is issued by a judge in civil court – either in family court or district court. It is basically a paper which that is signed by a judge and tells  the abuser to stop the abuse or face serious legal consequences. It offers civil legal protection from domestic violence to both women and men victims and a violation of the order can be a crime.

In Rhode Island, there are two courts that issue restraining orders: district court and family court. Your relationship to the abuser will determine which court you file in, as is explained in the rest of this section. Also, the type of relief you can get in the restraining order will be slightly different in family court than in district court.

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back to topWhat is the legal definition of domestic abuse in RI?

This section defines domestic abuse for the purposes of getting a restraining order in family court and in district court.

If you have the type of relationship to the abuser (explained below), domestic abuse is when the abuser commits one of the following acts against you:
  • Attempts to cause or causes you physical harm (with or without a weapon);
  • Places you in fear of immediate serious physical harm (including threatening you with a weapon);
  • Causes you to have sexual relations against your will by force, threat of force, or duress (coercion);
  • Stalks you – stalking is defined as either:
    • Harassment (behaving or acting in a way that intends to seriously alarm, annoy, or bother you, and which serves no legitimate (valid) purpose. His/her actions must reasonably cause you to suffer substantial emotional distress or to be in fear of bodily injury); OR
    • Maliciously and repeatedly following you with the intent to place you in reasonable fear of bodily injury; or
  • Cyberstalks you (sends any communication by computer to you for the sole purpose of harassing you or your family).*
If the abuser is committing any of the acts listed above, you must have one of the following relationships to the abuser to apply for a restraining order for you and/or your child. The abuser must be a:
  1. present or former family member;
  2. spouse or former spouse;
  3. parent or step-parent;
  4. child or step-child;
  5. related to you by blood or marriage;
  6. someone you are or have been in a serious dating or engagement relationship with during the past year - it doesn't matter if:
    a. if you and the abuser are both adults (or emancipated minors);** or
    b. you or the abuser are a minor;***
  7. cohabitant, which means that you are both adults or emancipated minors who:
    - are not related by blood or marriage,
    - do not have a child together, and
    - you have lived together at some point within the last 3 years.  (You do not have to have a romantic relationship - you could be roommates, for example.)****

Note: If you fall into categories 1 through 6a (above), you would file in family court. If you fall into categories 6b or 7, you would file in district court.

* RI Gen. Laws §§ 8-8.1-1(5)(iv)-(vi),(4),(6),(8); 15-15-1(2),(6)-(8); see also "complaint for protection from abuse" form at RI Gen Laws §§ 8-8.1-6; 15-15-6
** RI Gen. Laws § 8-8.1-1(5)
*** RI Gen. Laws § 15-15-1(2), (4)
**** RI Gen. Laws § 8-8.1-1(1),(3)

     

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back to topWhat types of restraining orders are there? How long do they last?

Both family court and district court offer temporary restraining orders and final restraining orders. These restraining orders may go by different names in different counties. They may also be called protective orders.  Here are the differences between the orders:

Emergency Order
An emergency order is an ex parte temporary order that can be granted if the courts are closed and you need immediate protection.* (Ex parte means one-sided, without the abuser being notified or present.)  If you need an emergency restraining order, you can contact your local police department for help.  A judge may grant you a temporary order over the phone to a police officer.  If you receive an emergency order over the phone, it expires at the close of the next business day. You will have to go to court to get a standard temporary order, which will last for up to three weeks, until your full court hearing for a final restraining order.

Temporary Order
Temporary ex parte restraining orders are designed to offer you emergency protection until the full court hearing for your final restraining order. To get a temporary, ex parte order, you would file your complaint in court during normal court business hours.  The judge must believe (after reading your affidavit / verified complaint), that immediate and severe injury, loss, or damage will happen to you if you don’t get a restraining order that day.  A temporary order generally lasts for up to 21 days. The court can extend it if the final court hearing gets adjourned beyond the 21 days.**

Final Order
A final restraining order can be issued only after a full court hearing in which you and the abuser both have a chance to present evidence and testimony to prove your sides of the story.**  If the abuser doesn’t appear at the hearing, you can still get a final restraining order as long as s/he was given proper notice of the hearing.  A final restraining order lasts up to three years.  You can also later file to have it extended for any amount of time that the judge believes is necessary to protect you.***  See How do I change or extend my order?

* RI Gen. Laws § 15-15-4(b); § 8-8.1-4(b)
** RI Gen. Laws §§ 8-8.1-4(a)(2); 15-15-4(a)(2)
*** RI Gen. Laws §§ 8.8-1.3(i); 15-15-3(h)(2)

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back to topHow can a restraining order help me?

The things that a judge can order in a restraining order depends, in part, on who you are filing against and which court you are filing in (district court or family court). To figure out which court you have to file in, go to What is the legal definition of domestic abuse in RI?

If you get a restraining order in district court, the judge can order the abuser to:

  • Stop contacting you, assaulting you, harassing you, or interfering with you in any way at home, on the street, or elsewhere;
  • Vacate (leave) the household immediately if you live together, unless the defendant has sole legal interest in the household (i.e., s/he is the only owner or legal tenant of the home);
  • Hand over any firearms in his/her possession to the authorities and forbid him/her from buying or possessing firearms unless s/he is a law officer, active member of the military, or in any other position where s/he is required by law or departmental policy to carry departmental firearms while on duty. For these defendants, they can have a firearm only during the course of their employment and at all other times, it must be stored at the place of employment).*(Note: this can be done only after notice to the defendant and a hearing).*
If you get a restraining order in family court, the judge can:
  • Order the abuser to stop contacting you, assaulting you, harassing you, or interfering with you in any way at home, on the street, or elsewhere;
  • Order the abuser to vacate the household immediately if you live together; Note: Unlike in district court, it doesn't matter if s/he has sole legal interest in the home;
  • Award you temporary custody of your minor children;
  • Ordering either you or the abuser to pay child support for up to 90 days (only after notice to the respondent and a hearing); and
  • Order the abuser to hand over any firearms in his/her possession to the authorities and forbid him/her from buying or possessing firearms unless s/he is a law officer, active member of the military, or in any other position where s/he is required by law or departmental policy to carry departmental firearms while on duty. For these respondents, they can have a firearm only during the course of their employment and at all other times, it must be stored at the place of employment. (Note: this can only happen after notice to the respondent and a hearing).**
Whether a judge orders any or all of the above depends on the facts of your case.

* RI Gen. Laws § 8-8.1-3(a),(f),(h)
** RI Gen. Laws §15-15-3(a),(f)

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back to topIn which county can I file for a restraining order?

You can file a petition in the family court or in the district court (depending on your relationship to the abuser) in the county where you live.  If you have moved to another county to avoid further abuse, you can file in that county no matter how long you have been living there.*  However, if you are trying to keep your new address confidential, filing in the county where you have fled to would likely not be a good idea since it would alert the abuser to the fact that you are living in that county.

* RI Gen. Laws §§ 8-8.1-2(a);15-15-2(a),(d)

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