Know the Laws: Rhode Island
UPDATED January 16, 2015
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.
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.
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:
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
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:
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 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.**
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)
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:
* RI Gen. Laws § 8-8.1-3(a),(f),(h)
** RI Gen. Laws §15-15-3(a),(f)
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)