WomensLaw is not just for women. We serve and support all survivors, no matter their sex or gender.

Important: Even if courts are closed, you can still file for a protection order and other emergency relief. See our FAQ on Courts and COVID-19.

Legal Information: Rhode Island

Rhode Island Restraining Orders

View by section

Restraining Orders

Domestic Violence Restraining Orders

In Rhode Island, there are two courts that issue domestic violence 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. In addition, a child who was sexually exploited by anyone, regardless of the relationship, can qualify for an order.

Basic information

What is the legal definition of domestic abuse in Rhode Island?

This section defines domestic abuse for the purposes of getting a domestic abuse restraining order in family court or in district court. Domestic abuse is when the abuser commits one of the following acts:

  • 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).1

In addition, a domestic abuse restraining order can be granted in family court on behalf of a minor child who is sexually exploited by anyone, regardless of his/her relationship to the child.2

To figure out which court you have to file in (district court or family court), go to Am I eligible? Do I file in family court or district court?

1 RI Gen. Laws §§ 8-8.1-1(4), (5)(iv)-(vii), (6), (8); 15-15-1(3), (4), (9)
2 RI Gen. Laws § 15-15-3(a)

What is the legal definition of sexual exploitation?

“Sexual exploitation” is defined as when anyone, regardless of his/her relationship to the child knowingly or willfully does –or attempts to do– any of the following:

  • encourages, helps, or coerces a minor child to commit a “commercial sex act” by recruiting, employing, enticing, soliciting, isolating, harboring, transporting, providing, persuading, obtaining, or maintaining the minor child;
  • encourages, helps, or coerces a minor child to do a “sexually explicit performance” by recruiting, employing, enticing, soliciting, isolating, harboring, transporting, providing, persuading, obtaining, or maintaining the minor child;
  • sells or purchases a minor for the purposes of “commercial sex acts” or encourages, helps, or coerces a minor child into doing so.1

A commercial sex act is defined as any sex act or sexually explicit performance in which anything of value is given, promised, or received, either directly or indirectly, by any person.2

A sexually explicit performance is defined as an act or show, intended to arouse, satisfy the sexual desires of, or appeal to the sexual interests of the viewer. The performance can be done publicly or privately and can be performed live or photographed, recorded, or videotaped.3

1 RI Gen Laws § 15-15-1(8)(i)
2 RI Gen Laws § 15-15-1(8)(i)(A)
3 RI Gen Laws § 15-15-1(8)(i)(B)

What 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.1 (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 and 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.2

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.2 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 the length of time that the judge believes is necessary to protect you.3 See How do I change or extend my order?

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

What protections can I get in a domestic violence restraining order?

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 Am I eligible? Do I file in family court or district court?

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);
  • not buy or receive (or attempt to buy or receive) any firearms while the order is in effect and hand over any firearms in his/her possession within 24 hours of receiving notice of the protective order. The abuser would then have to file proof with the court with 72 hours that s/he properly surrendered the firearms or that s/he does not have any firearms. The firearms can be given to the Rhode Island state police or local police department or to a federally-licensed firearms dealer.1 For more information about what happens after surrendering the firearms, go to If the abuser’s gun is taken away as part of my restraining order, what will happen to it?

Note: These firearms restrictions do not apply if the abuser is a peace officer (law enforcement 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.2

If you get a restraining order in family court, the judge can:

  • order the abuser to stop contacting you, assaulting you, harassing you, sexually exploiting you (if you are a minor child), 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;
  • include terms in the order to ensure the safety and welfare of all household animals and pets;
  • 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
  • not buy or receive (or attempt to buy or receive) any firearms while the order is in effect and hand over any firearms in his/her possession within 24 hours of receiving notice of the protective order. The abuser would then have to file proof with the court with 72 hours that s/he properly surrendered the firearms or that s/he does not have any firearms. The firearms can be given to the Rhode Island state police or local police department or to a federally-licensed firearms dealer.3 For more information about what happens after surrendering the firearms, go to If the abuser’s gun is taken away as part of my restraining order, what will happen to it?

Note: These firearms restrictions do not apply if the abuser is a peace officer (law enforcement 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.4

1 RI Gen. Laws § 8-8.1-3(a), (m)
2 RI Gen. Laws § 8-8.1-3(k)
3 RI Gen. Laws § 15-15-3(a), (k)
4 RI Gen. Laws § 15-15-3(b)

In 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.1 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.

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

If the abuser lives in a different state, can I still get an order against him/her?

When you and the abuser live in different states, the judge may not have “personal jurisdiction” (power) over an out-of-state abuser. This means that the court may not be able to grant an order against him/her.

There are a few ways that a court can have personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state abuser:

  1. The abuser has a substantial connection to your state. Perhaps the abuser regularly travels to your state to visit you, for business, to see extended family, or the abuser lived in your state and recently fled.
  2. One of the acts of abuse “happened” in your state. Perhaps the abuser sends you threatening texts or harassing phone calls from another state but you read the messages or answer the calls while you are in your state. The judge could decide that the abuse “happened” to you while you were in your state. It may also be possible that the abuser was in your state when s/he abused you s/he but has since left the state.
  3. If you file your petition and the abuser gets served with the court petition while s/he is in your state, this is another way for the court to get jurisdiction.

However, even if none of the above apply to your situation, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t get an order. If you file, you may be granted an order on consent or the judge may find other circumstances that allow the order to be granted.

You can read more about personal jurisdiction in our Court System Basics - Personal Jurisdiction section.

Note: If the judge in your state refuses to issue an order, you can file for an order in the courthouse in the state where the abuser lives. However, remember that you will likely need to file the petition in person and attend various court dates, which could be difficult if the abuser’s state is far away.

Who can get a restraining order

Am I eligible? Do I file in family court or district court?

Your eligibility in filing for a restraining order depends upon whether you meet the legal definition of domestic abuse and what your relationship is to the abuser. Your relationship also determines whether you file in family court or district court.

Family Court
You can be eligible to file for a restraining order in family court if:

  1. you or your minor child has been the victim of an act of domestic abuse, as defined by law, committed by:
    • a spouse or former spouse;
    • a parent or step-parent;
    • a child or step-child;
    • a present or former family member;
    • someone related to you by blood or marriage (e.g., a brother-in-law or uncle);
    • someone with whom you have a child in common; or
    • someone you have dated seriously or been engaged to within the past one year, if at least one of you is a minor. (If you are both adults, you would file in district court.) Note: It is up to the court to decide whether your relationship is “serious enough” to qualify for a restraining order. The judge will look at factors such as:
      • the length of time of the relationship;
      • the type of relationship you had; and
      • how often you both interacted with each other.1
  2. your minor child is the victim and the abuser is not related to your child by blood or marriage; for example, if your boyfriend harms your child;
  3. the domestic abuse is committed between or against minor children of serious dating partners; or
  4. anyone, regardless of the relationship, has sexually exploited a minor child. In that case, the minor child can qualify for a restraining order.2

District Court
You may be eligible to file for a restraining order in district court if you or your minor child has been the victim of an act of domestic abuse, as defined by law, as long as:

  1. you or your child is the victim and you and the abuser are/were cohabitants, which means that all of the following are true:
    • you are not related by blood or marriage;
    • do not have a child together;
    • you are both adults (or emancipated minors); and
    • you lived together at some point within the past three years. Note: You do not have to be romantically involved with the abuser – the person could be a roommate, for example; or
  2. you or a child in your custody is the victim and the abuser is someone you are or have been in a serious dating or engagement relationship with in the past one year if you are both adults. Note: It is up to the court to decide whether your relationship is “serious enough” to qualify for a restraining order. The judge will look at factors such as:
    • the length of time of the relationship;
    • the type of relationship you had; and
    • how often you both interacted with each other.3

If you are not eligible for a family or district court restraining order, you may be able to get protection through a no-contact order or a workplace restraining order. See What if I don’t qualify for a restraining order? for more information.

1 RI Gen. Laws § 15-15-1(4), (7), (10)
2 RI Gen. Laws §§ 15-15-3(a); 15-15-1(7), (8)
3 RI Gen. Laws § 8-8.1-1(1), (3), (5)

Can a minor file for a restraining order?

In family court or in district court, the law says that “a person” can file a petition on his/her own behalf, which can be interpreted that a minor can file on his/her own behalf. In addition, in both courts, an adult can file on behalf of his/her minor child or a child in his/her custody. The law further clarifies that in family court, the minor’s parent, custodian, or legal guardian can file on behalf of the minor - or, if the minor is in the custody of the Department of Children, Youth and Families (“DCYF”), DCYF can file on behalf of the minor.1

1 RI Gen. Laws §§ 15-15-3(a); 8-8.1-3(a); 8-8.1-1(5)

Can I get a restraining order against a same-sex partner?

In Rhode Island, you may apply for a restraining order against a current or former same-sex partner as long as the relationship meets the requirements listed in Am I eligible? Do I file in family court or district court? You must also be the victim of an act of domestic abuse, which is explained here What is the legal definition of domestic abuse in Rhode Island?

You can find information about LGBTQIA victims of abuse and what types of barriers they may face on our LGBTQIA Victims page.

How much does it cost to get a restraining order? Do I need an attorney?

There are no fees for filing for a restraining order.1

You do not need a lawyer to file for a restraining order. However, you may wish to have a lawyer, especially if the abuser has a lawyer.  If you cannot get a lawyer to represent you, you may want to at least try to contact a lawyer before your final hearing for advice to help make ensure that your legal rights are protected.  If you cannot afford a lawyer but want one to help you with your case, you can find information on legal assistance on the RI Finding a Lawyer page.  Domestic violence organizations in your area also may be able to help you through the legal process and may have lawyer referrals – you can find those organizations on our RI Advocates and Shelters page.

1 RI Gen. Laws §§ 8.8-1.2(a), 15-15-2(c)

What if I don't qualify for a restraining order?

If you don’t qualify for a restraining order, there may still be other options for you. First, remember that the abuser may be committing a crime, which you can report to the police and s/he may be arrested. If s/he is arrested and prosecuted for a crime involving domestic violence (see list below), the judge will issue a no contact order when s/he is arraigned (formally charged in court). The no contact order would prohibit him/her from having any contact with you. You do not have to file for the order yourself – the judge would issue it on your behalf without you being present.1

The following crimes are considered domestic violence crimes when committed by your family or household member and could result in you getting a no contact order if the abuser is arrested:

Note: “Family or household member” means spouses, former spouses, adults related by blood or marriage, adults who are presently living together or who have lived together at some point in the past 3 years, and people who have a child in common together (regardless of whether they have been married or have lived together), or people who are or have been in a serious dating or engagement relationship within the past year.3

Another way to get a restraining order could be through your employer who can file for a workplace restraining order based on violence, threats, or stalking committed against you by anyone, regardless of your relationship to that person. Go to our Workplace Restraining Orders page for more information.

You can also visit our Safety Tips page for ways to increase your safety. If you are being stalked or harassed, you can also go to our Stalking/Cyberstalking page to learn more about stalking in general and for additional resources. Aside from physical abuse and stalking, if you are being mentally or emotionally abused, please contact a domestic violence organization in your area. They can help you figure out your options and offer you support. See RI Advocates and Shelters for contact information.

1 RI Gen. Laws § 12-29-4(a)(1)
2 RI Gen. Laws § 12-29-2(a)
3 RI Gen. Laws § 12-29-2(b)

Steps for getting a restraining order

Step 1: Get the necessary forms.

To start your case, you will go to either the family court or district court in the county where you live or are currently staying. You will get the necessary forms from the clerk at the courthouse and fill them out. To find contact information for the courthouse in your area, go to our RI Courthouse Locations page.

You can find the forms from the clerk at the courthouse, but you may want to get the forms from our RI Download Court Forms page and find them before you go and fill them out at home or with an advocate from a shelter or local organization.

Most shelters and other domestic violence organizations can provide support for you while you fill out these papers and go to court. Please visit RI Advocates and Shelters page to find help in your area.

Step 2: Carefully fill out the forms.

On the complaint, you will be the plaintiff or petitioner and the abuser will be the defendant or the respondent, depending on whether you are in district court or family court.

In the box provided for explaining why you want the restraining order, write about the most recent incidents of violence, using specific language (slapping, hitting, grabbing, threatening, etc.) that fits your situation. Include details and dates, if possible. You may also have to provide an accurate physical description of the abuser and an address where s/he can be found so the order can be served. Clerks can show you which blanks to fill in, but they cannot help you decide what to write. Do not sign the complaint or affidavit until you have shown it to a clerk, since the forms may need to be notarized or signed in the presence of court personnel.

If you need immediate protection, tell the clerk that you want to apply for a temporary ex parte restraining order (which would be issued the very same day). A judge can grant you a temporary ex parte order if the judge believes that you or your child is in danger of immediate and severe injury, loss, or damage.1 Note: The abuser does not have to be with you or be told beforehand that you are asking the judge for a temporary restraining order. However, the order is not valid until it is served on the abuser.

1 RI Gen. Laws §§ 8-8.1-4(a)(2); 15-15-4(a)(2)

Step 3: A judge will review your application.

After you finish filling out your application for the restraining order, bring it to the court clerk. The clerk will forward it to a judge. The judge may wish to ask you questions as s/he reviews your complaint. Based on what you write in the complaint, the judge will decide whether to issue an immediate temporary order. The decision will be based on whether or not you and/or your child is at risk for immediate and severe injury, damage or loss. The judge will then set a date for a hearing for the final order. You will be given papers that state the time and date of your hearing for a final order. The hearing should be scheduled to happen within 21 days.1

Note: If you received a temporary order, you should keep a copy of it with you at all times.

1 RI Gen. Laws §§ 8-8.1-4(a)(2); 15-15-4(a)(2)

Step 4: Service of process

Your restraining order is not valid until the abuser has been served with a copy of it. The abuser must also be served with legal notice of hearing and with a copy of the complaint that you filed against him/her. A deputy sheriff has to serve the abuser, by law, for free. Another option for service is that you could hire a certified constable, but then there would be a fee.1 The deputy sheriff or certified constable would then send the “return of service” form to the court before the hearing date (and send a copy to you), which proves that the abuser was served in case s/he doesn’t show up at the hearing.2 However, you may want to follow up with the deputy sheriff or certified constable before the court date to make sure that this was done. Do not try and serve the abuser in person with the papers yourself. Note: If the defendant is a minor, the complaint and any order must also be personally served upon a parent or guardian of the minor.3

If, at the time of the final hearing, the deputy sheriff or certified constable has been unable to serve the defendant personally after a diligent (thorough) effort, the judge may order an alternate method of service. For example, the judge can order service:

  • by certified and regular mail at the defendant’s place of employment or last known address (not including the residence which s/he has been ordered to vacate as part of the restraining order);
  • by leaving copies of the papers at the defendant’s home with a person of “suitable age and discretion” (not a young child, for example); or
  • by publication in a newspaper for two weeks in a row.4

The judge will then set a new date for the hearing on the complaint and extend the temporary order until that date.4

1 RI Gen. Laws §§ 8-8.1-4.2(a); 15-15-4.1(a)
2 RI Gen. Laws §§ 8-8.1-4.2(b),(c); 15-15-4.1(b),(c)
3 RI Gen. Laws §15-15-4.1(a)
4 RI Gen. Laws §§ 8-8.1-4.2(d); 15-15-4.1(d)

You can find more information about service of process in our Preparing for Court – By Yourself section, in the question called What is service of process and how do I accomplish it?

Step 5: The hearing

If you do not go to the hearing, your temporary order will expire. If the abuser does not show up for the hearing, the judge may still grant you a final restraining order (if the “return of service” form was received by the court) or may reschedule the hearing.

You may have to prove that you have the required relationship to the defendant, especially if the defendant denies the relationship. To prove a serious dating relationship, for example, the judge will look at:

  • the length of time of the relationship;
  • the type of relationship you had; and
  • how often you both interacted with each other.1

You may want to think through how you would prove these factors ahead of time (through witnesses, love letters s/he wrote to you, etc.), in case the defendant tries to deny that you had a serious dating relationship.

For additional tips, see the Preparing Your Case page for ways you can show the judge that you were abused. You may want to strongly consider getting a lawyer to help with your case, especially if the abuser has a lawyer. If the abuser shows up with a lawyer, you can ask the judge for a “continuance” (a later court date) so that you have time to find a lawyer. To find a lawyer in your area, please visit the RI Finding a Lawyer page.

1 RI Gen. Laws §§ 8-8.1-1(5); 15-15-1(10)

After the hearing

Can the abuser have a gun?

Once you get a protection order, there may be laws that prohibit the respondent from having a gun in his/her possession.  There are a few places where you can find this information:

  • first, read the questions on this page to see if judges in Rhode Island have to power to remove guns as part of a temporary or final order;
  • second, go to our State Gun Laws section to read about your state’s specific gun-related laws; and
  • third you can read our Federal Gun Laws section to understand the federal laws that apply to all states.

You can read more about keeping an abuser from accessing guns on the National Domestic Violence and Firearms Resource Center’s website

If the abuser's gun is taken away as part of my restraining order, what will happen to it?

If the abuser is ordered to surrender his/her firearms as part of your restraining order, the judge will order him/her to surrender the possession of the firearm(s) to:

  • someone who is not related to the defendant by blood, marriage, and is not an intimate partner1 (and this person is prohibited by law from returning the firearms to the abuser at any point while the restraining order is still valid);
  • the Rhode Island state police or local police department; or
  • a licensed gun dealer.1

The abuser must surrender the firearms within twenty-four hours of the receiving notice of the protective order. The abuser would then have to file proof with the court with 72 hours that s/he properly surrendered the firearms or that s/he does not have any firearms. After surrendering the firearms, s/he has the right to have a court hearing within 15 days for the judge to review the matter and to decide whether or not the firearms should stay surrendered or be returned to the abuser. At the hearing, the abuser has the burden of proving that s/he would not pose a danger to you (or to anyone else) if his/her firearm were returned. You will receive notice of the hearing and have the right to be present.2

1 RI Gen Laws §§ 8-8.1-3(a),(k),(m); 15-15-3(d)
2 RI Gen Laws §§ 8-8.1-3(c),(j); 15-15-3(b)

What should I do when I leave the courthouse?

Here are some things you may want to consider doing.  However, you will have to evaluate each one to see if it works for your situation.

  • Review the order before you leave the courthouse. If something is wrong or missing, ask the clerk how to correct the order before you leave.
  • Make several copies of the restraining order as soon as possible.
  • Keep a copy of the order with you at all times.
  • Leave copies of the order at your work place, at your home, at the children’s school or daycare, in your car, with a sympathetic neighbor, and so on.
  • Give a copy to the security guard or person at the front desk where you live and/or work along with a photo of the abuser.
  • Give a copy of the order to anyone who is named in and protected by the order.
  • If the court has not given you an extra copy for your local law enforcement agency, take one of your extra copies and deliver it to them.
  • You may wish to consider changing your locks (if permitted by law) and your phone number.

One week after court, you may want to call your local law enforcement offices to make sure they have received copies of the restraining order from the clerk.

You may also wish to make a safety plan.  People can do a number of things to increase their safety during violent incidents, when preparing to leave an abusive relationship, and when they are at home, work, and school.  Many abusers obey restraining orders, but some do not, and it is important to build on the things you have already been doing to keep yourself safe.  Click on the following link for suggestions on Safety Tips.  Also, advocates at local domestic violence organizations can assist you in designing a safety plan and can provide other forms of support.  To find a shelter or advocate in your area please visit the RI Advocates and Shelters page.

I was denied a restraining order at the hearing. What are my options?

If you are not granted a restraining order, there are still some things you can do to stay safe.  It might be a good idea to contact one of the domestic violence resource centers in your area to get help, support, and advice on how to stay safe.  They can help you develop a safety plan and help connect you with the resources you need. For safety planning help, ideas, and information, go to our Safety Tips page.  You will find a list of Rhode Island resources on our RI State Resources page.

If you were not granted a family or district court restraining order because your relationship with the abuser does not qualify, you may be able to seek protection through a criminal no-contact order (if you report the crime to the police and s/he is arrested) or through your a workplace restraining order.  You will find more information about this on our What if I don’t qualify for a restraining order? page.  You may also be able to reapply for a restraining order if a new incident of domestic abuse occurs after you are denied the order.

If you believe the judge made an error of law, you can talk to a lawyer about the possibility of an appeal.  Generally, appeals are complicated, and you will most likely need the help of a lawyer.  You can read more about appeals on our Filing Appeals page.

What if the abuser violates the order?

Violating a restraining order can be a crime. There are two main ways to get help if the abuser violates your order.

1. Through the Police or Sheriff (Criminal System)
If the defendant violates the restraining order, you can call 911 immediately. In some cases, the defendant can be arrested right away. Tell the officers you have a restraining order and the defendant is violating it. If the defendant is arrested, then the Attorney General can prosecute the abuser because it is a crime to violate a restraining order. If found guilty of a violation of a restraining order, the defendant can be punished by a fine of as much as $1,000 and/or by up to 1 year in jail, and may be ordered to attend counseling.1

2. Through the Civil Court System (Civil System)
You may file for civil contempt for a violation of the order. The abuser can be “held in civil contempt” if s/he or she does anything that your restraining order orders him/her not to do. To file for civil contempt, go to the clerk’s office and ask for the forms.

1 See RI Gen. Laws §§ 8-8.1-7; 15-15-7

How do I change or extend my order?

If you want to modify (change) your order, you would go back to the court where you got the order and file a modification petition with the clerk. You will have to repeat the hearing process and explain to the judge why the order should be changed in the way you are requesting.

To extend (renew) your order, you would go back to the court where you got the order and file a renewal petition with the clerk. You must request this renewal before your order expires.1 A judge may extend your order by granting a renewal for the length of time that the judge believes is necessary to protect you from abuse.2 You may have your order renewed more than once.

1 RI Gen Laws § 8-8.1-7
2 RI Gen Laws §§ 8-8.1-3(n); 15-15-3(m)(2)

What happens if I move?

Whether you move within Rhode Island or to another US state or territory, your order will still be valid and enforceable.  You might want to call the court clerk to change your address in the court file so that you can be contacted if the abuser files for a modification or if the court needs to reach you for any reason.  However, be sure to ask the clerk that your address be kept confidential if the abuser doesn’t know where you will be living.

Note: If you are moving to a military installation, see our Military Protective Orders for information on enforcing a civil protection order on a military installation.

Sexual Assault Protective Orders

Basic info and definitions

What is a sexual assault protective order?

Similar to a domestic violence restraining order, a sexual assault protective order is a court order that can protect you from an abuser if you are the victim of sexual assault.1

1 RI Gen. Laws § 11-37.2-2(a)

What is the legal definition of sexual assault?

For the purposes of getting a sexual assault protective order, “sexual assault” is defined as:

1 RI Gen. Laws § 11-37.2-2(a)

What types of sexual assault protective orders are there? How long do they last?

There are two types of sexual assault protective orders – temporary orders and final orders.

Temporary orders – When you file a petition for a sexual assault protective order, you can ask for a temporary, ex parte restraining order to be issued immediately. A judge can grant you a temporary order if the judge decides that your petition shows that you will suffer immediate and permanent injury, loss, or damage without an order. The judge can issue this order ex parte, which means that the abuser does not receive prior notice and is not present at the hearing. A temporary order can last for up to 21 days.1

Final orders – A final sexual assault protective order can be issued after the respondent has an opportunity to participate in a hearing where the judge hears evidence from both parties. The order can last up to three years.2

1 RI Gen. Laws § 11-37.2-3
2 RI Gen. Laws § 11-37.2-2(d)

What protections can I get in a sexual assault protective order?

In a sexual assault protective order, a judge can order that the respondent not:

  • contact you;
  • assault you;
  • molest you; and
  • interfere with you at home, on the street, or anywhere else.1

1 RI Gen. Laws § 11-37.2-2(a)

Getting the order

Who can get a sexual assault protective order?

You can file for a sexual assault restraining order if you are a victim of sexual assault, child molestation, or stalking. You do not need to have a family or household relationship with the abuser to qualify for the order.1 If the abuser is a former or current intimate partner, then you may qualify for a domestic violence restraining order instead.

1 RI Gen. Laws § 11-37.2-2(a)

What are the steps to get a sexual assault protective order?

What if the abuser violates the order?

Violating a sexual assault protective order could be a misdemeanor. The abuser could be punished with a fine of up to $1,000, imprisonment in jail for up to a year, or both.1

If the abuser violates your order, you can report the violation to the police if that is a safe option for you and also report it to the court by filing a motion for contempt.

1 RI Gen. Laws § 11-37.2-2(e)

Workplace Violence Restraining Orders

If an employer, or his/her employee or “invitee” (guest, customer, etc.) is the victim of violence; received a threat of violence that can reasonably be interpreted as something that may be carried out at the worksite; or was stalked or harassed at the worksite, the employer can file for a workplace violence restraining order against the perpetrator.

Who can file for a workplace violence restraining order?

A workplace violence restraining order is something that an employer could seek in court based on threats, violence or stalking against the employer, an employee (you), or against an “invitee” (someone invited into the worksite, such as a customer or guest).  Your employer could be eligible if you (the employee), your employer, and/or an “invitee”: 

  • were the victim of violence (anywhere);
  • received a threat of violence that can reasonably be interpreted as a threat that may be carried out at the worksite; or
  • have been stalked or harassed at the worksite.1

A workplace violence restraining order could prohibit “further unlawful acts” by the abuser at the worksite.2  See How can a workplace violence restraining order help me? for more information about the protections that this order can offer.  

Note: Your employer must file for this type of restraining order on your behalf; you, as an employee, cannot file for it (although you may qualify for your own domestic violence restraining order, depending on your relationship to the abuser).  There does not need to be a personal relationship between the perpetrator and the victim for this workplace violence restraining order to be issued.  In other words, the perpetrator (abuser) could be anyone: a co-worker, customer, intimate partner, family member, etc.1

1 RI Gen. Laws § 28-52-2(a)
2 RI Gen. Laws § 28-52-2(b)

What protections can I get in a workplace violence restraining order?

A workplace violence restraining order could order the defendant:

  • not to visit, assault, bother, or otherwise interfere with you, the employer, the employer’s operations of his/her business, other employees, or “invitees” (guests, customers, etc.) present at the worksite;
  • not to stalk, harass, or call you, the employer, other employees, or “invitees” at the worksite;
  • not to abuse or injure the employer, the employer’s property, you, other employees, or “invitees” at the worksite; and
  • to do or not do anything else that the judge believes is necessary and appropriate.1

1 RI Gen. Laws § 28-52-2(b)

What else can I do to stay safe?

You can visit our Safety Tips page for ways to increase your safety. If you are being stalked or harassed, you can visit our Stalking/Cyberstalking page for more information. You can also visit the Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center website for more resources related to stalking and harassment. Aside from physical abuse and stalking, if you are being mentally or emotionally abused, you can contact a domestic violence organization in your area that is listed on our RI Advocates and Shelters. They may be able to help you figure out your options and offer you support. You may also qualify for a domestic violence restraining order, depending on your relationship to the abuser and the type of abuse you are suffering.

Extreme Risk Protection Orders

Basic info

What is an extreme risk protection order?

An extreme risk protection order is a civil court order that keeps an individual (known as the respondent) from:

  • having a gun in his/her possession, custody, or control;
  • purchasing or receiving a gun; or
  • attempting to purchase or receive a gun.1

1 8 R.I. Gen. Laws § 8-8.3-3(b)

Who can file for an extreme risk protection order?

A law enforcement agency can file for an extreme risk protection order if the respondent poses a significant danger of causing personal injury to himself/herself or another person by having a firearm in his/her custody or control, or by purchasing, possessing, or receiving a firearm.1

If you are a person who is concerned about the safety of someone else but cannot file to have his/her firearms removed, you may be able to speak to a law enforcement officer or agency to let them know of your concern and ask that they file for an extreme risk protection order to have the firearms removed.

1 8 R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 8-8.3-3(c); 8-8.3-1

What types of orders are there? How long do they last?

There are two types of extreme risk protection orders: temporary ex parte extreme risk protection orders and one-year extreme risk protection orders.

Temporary ex parte extreme risk protection orders: The judge can issue a temporary ex parte extreme risk protection order without the respondent having notice of the hearing or being present for the hearing. This type of order remains in effect until the next hearing, which must be scheduled within 14 days.1

One-year extreme risk protection orders issued after a hearing: A one-year extreme risk protection order can be issued after the respondent receives notice and has the opportunity to be present for a hearing in court. At the hearing, the judge will decide if the respondent poses a significant danger of causing personal injury to himself/herself or others by having a firearm in his/her custody or control, or by purchasing, possessing, or receiving a firearm. An extreme risk protection order issued after a hearing will last for a period of one year.2

1 8 R.I. Gen. Laws § 8-8.3-4(e)(7), (f)
2 8 R.I. Gen. Laws § 8-8.3-5(a)

What protections can be granted in an extreme risk protection order?

In an extreme risk protective order, the judge can order that the respondent not get, attempt to get, buy, or attempt to buy any firearms. The order will also instruct the respondent to give up any firearms that s/he has in his/her custody, control, or possession.1

1 8 R.I. Gen. Laws § 8-8.3-5(a), (f)(6)

Getting the order

What are the steps to getting an extreme risk protection order?

The steps to get an extreme risk protection order are similar to the steps to get a domestic violence restraining order, but the petitioner (a law enforcement agency) will fill out different forms. Extreme risk protection order petitions should be filed in the county where the respondent lives. There are no fees to file for an order.1

The petition should include the specific statements, actions, or facts that support the petitioner’s belief that the respondent poses a significant risk of danger to himself/herself or others by having a firearm in his/her custody or control or by purchasing, possessing, or receiving a firearm. The petition must also include a written affidavit (sworn statement) signed by the petitioner.2 If the petitioner knows the respondent has firearms, the petition should include the number, types, and locations of the firearms if the petitioner knows.3

1 8 R.I. Gen. Laws § 8-8.3-2
2 8 R.I. Gen. Laws § 8-8.3-3(d), (e)
3 8 R.I. Gen. Laws § 8-8.3-3(f)

How will a judge make a decision about whether to grant the order?

The judge will consider several factors when deciding whether to grant an extreme risk protection order. To decide if the respondent poses a significant danger of causing personal injury to himself/herself or others, the judge will consider the respondent’s:

  • acts or threats of violence against himself/herself or others, including any recent act or a pattern of such acts within the past 12 months;
  • mental health history;
  • drug or alcohol abuse;
  • violations of any court orders, including restraining orders, no-contact orders, and protective orders;
  • previous extreme risk protection orders;
  • illegal, threatening, or reckless use or waving of a firearm, including through social media;
  • ownership of, access to, or a plan to possess firearms;
  • criminal history;
  • history, use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical violence, history of stalking, or history of cruelty to animals; and
  • history of recently getting or trying to get firearms.1

1 8 R.I. Gen. Laws § 8-8.3-5(a), (b)

Can an extreme risk protection order be renewed?

The petitioner, a law enforcement agency, can request to renew a one-year extreme risk protection order by filing a motion with the court. The petitioner must file the motion within 14 days of the order’s expiration date.1 The court will schedule a hearing within 14 days of the date that the motion is filed. The respondent must be personally served with notice of the motion.2

When deciding whether to renew a one-year extreme risk protection order, the judge will consider the same factors considered when issuing the original order. The judge may also consider if the respondent has followed the judge’s orders for mental health and substance abuse evaluation. If the judge decides that the order should be renewed, s/he can issue the order for an additional one-year period.3

1 8 R.I. Gen. Laws § 8-8.3-7(c)
2 8 R.I. Gen. Laws § 8-8.3-7(c)(1)
3 8 R.I. Gen. Laws § 8-8.3-7(c)(3), (c)(4)

What happens if the respondent violates the order?

The respondent can be held in contempt of court for violating an extreme risk protection order. In addition, violating an extreme risk protection order is a felony. The respondent can be punished by being sent to jail for up to ten years, fined up to $10,000, or both.1

1 8 R.I. Gen. Laws § 8-8.3-10(a), (b)

Moving to Another State with a Restraining Order

If you are moving out of state or are going to be out of the state for any reason, your order of protection can still be enforceable.

Basic information

Can I get my restraining order from Rhode Island enforced in another state?

Yes. If you have a valid Rhode Island restraining order that meets federal standards, it can be enforced in another state.  The Violence Against Women Act, which is a federal law, states that all valid restraining orders granted in the United States receive “full faith and credit” in all state and tribal courts within the US, including US territories.  See How do I know if my restraining order is good under federal law? to find out if your restraining order qualifies.

Each state must enforce out-of-state restraining orders in the same way it enforces its own orders.  If the abuser violates your out-of-state restraining order, s/he will be punished according to the laws of whatever state you are in when the order is violated, which is what is meant by “full faith and credit.”

How do I know if my restraining order is good under federal law?

A restraining order is good anywhere in the United States as long as:

  • It was issued to prevent violent or threatening acts, harassing behavior, sexual violence, or it was issued to prevent another person from coming near you or contacting you.1
  • The court that issued the order had jurisdiction over the people and case. (In other words, the court had the authority to hear the case.)
  • The abuser received notice of the order and had an opportunity to go to court to tell his/her side of the story.
    • In the case of ex parte temporary and emergency orders, the abuser must receive notice and have an opportunity to go to court to tell his/her side of the story at a hearing that is scheduled before the temporary order expires.2

Note: For information on enforcing a military protective order (MPO) off the military installation, or enforcing a civil protection order (CPO) on a military installation, please see our Military Protective Orders page.

1 18 U.S.C. § 2266(5)
2 18 U.S.C. § 2265(a), (b)

I have a temporary ex parte order. Can it be enforced in another state?

Yes. An ex parte temporary order can be enforced in other states as long as it meets the requirements listed in How do I know if my restraining order is good under federal law?1

Note: The state where you are going generally cannot extend your ex parte temporary order or issue you a permanent order when the temporary one expires.  If you need to extend your temporary order, you will have to contact the state that issued the order and arrange to be at the hearing in person or by telephone (if that is an option offered by the court).  However, you may be able to reapply for one in the new state that you are moving to if you meet the requirements for getting a protective order in that state – but, if you apply for one in a new state, the abuser would know what state you are living in, which may put you in danger.

1 18 U.S.C. § 2265(b)(2)

 

Getting your restraining order enforced in another state

How do I get my restraining order enforced in another state?

Federal law does not require you to take any special steps to get your restraining order enforced in another state.

Many states do have laws or regulations (rules) about registering or filing of out-of-state orders, which can make enforcement easier, but a valid restraining order is enforceable regardless of whether it has been registered or filed in the new state.1  Rules differ from state to state, so it may be helpful to find out what the rules are in your new state.  You can contact a local domestic violence organization for more information by visiting our Advocates and Shelters page and entering your new state in the drop-down menu.

Note: It is important to keep a copy of your restraining order with you at all times. It is also a good idea to know the rules of states you will be living in or visiting to ensure that your out-of-state order can be enforced in a timely manner.

1 18 U.S.C. § 2265(d)(2)

Do I need anything special to get my restraining order enforced?

In most states, you will need a certified copy of your Restraining Order.  A certified copy says that it is a “true and correct” copy; it is signed and initialed by the clerk of court that gave you the order, and usually has some kind of court stamp.

In Rhode Island, a certified copy has a raised seal.  If your copy is not a certified copy, call or go to the court that gave you the order and ask for a certified copy.  You can find contact information for courthouses in Rhode Island on our RI Courthouse Location & Info page.

Note: It is a good idea to keep a copy of the order with you at all times.  You will also want to bring several copies of the order with you when you move.  Leave copies of the order at your work place, at your home, at the children’s school or daycare, in your car, with a sympathetic neighbor, and so on.  Give a copy to the security guard or person at the front desk where you live and/or work.  Give a copy of the order to anyone who is named in and protected by the order.

Can I get someone to help me through this process? Do I need a lawyer?

You do not need a lawyer to get your restraining order enforced in another state.

However, you may want to get help from a local domestic violence advocate or attorney in the state where you move.  A domestic violence advocate can let you know what the advantages and disadvantages are for registering your order, and help you through the process if you decide to do so.

To find a domestic violence advocate, go to our Advocates and Shelters page.  To find an attorney in the state you are moving to, go to the Finding a Lawyer page.  You can select your state from the drop-down menu.

Enforcing custody provisions in another state

I was granted temporary custody with my restraining order. Can I take my kids out of the state?

Maybe. It may depend on the exact wording of the custody provision in your restraining order.  You may have to first seek the permission of the court before leaving.  If the abuser was granted visitation rights with your children, then you have to have the order changed, or show the court that there is a fair and realistic alternative to the current visitation schedule.

If you are unsure about whether or not you can take your kids out of the state, it is important to talk to a domestic violence advocate or lawyer who understands domestic violence and custody laws, and can help you make the safest decision for you and your children. You can find contact information for local domestic violence organizations and legal assistance in the RI area on our RI State Resources page.

I was granted temporary custody with my restraining order. Will another state enforce this custody order?

Yes. Custody, visitation, and child support provisions that are included in a domestic violence restraining order can be enforced across state lines. Law enforcement and courts in another state are required by federal law to enforce these provisions.

Enforcing your Out-Of-State Order in Rhode Island

If you are planning to move to Rhode Island or are going to be in Rhode Island for any reason, your protection or restraining order can be enforced.

General rules for out-of-state orders in Rhode Island

Can I get my protection order enforced in Rhode Island? What are the requirements?

Yes. Your protection order can be enforced in Rhode Island as long as:

  • It was issued to prevent violent or threatening acts, harassing behavior, sexual violence, or it was issued to prevent another person from coming near you or contacting you.1
  • The court that issued the order had jurisdiction over the people and case. (In other words, the court had the authority to hear the case.)
  • The abuser received notice of the order and had an opportunity to go to court to tell his/her side of the story.
    • In the case of ex parte temporary and emergency orders, the abuser must receive notice and have an opportunity to go to court to tell his/her side of the story at a hearing that is scheduled before the temporary order expires.2

Note: For information on enforcing a military protective order (MPO) off the military installation, or enforcing a civil protection order (CPO) on a military installation, please see our Military Protective Orders page. 

1 18 U.S.C. § 2266(5)
2 18 U.S.C. § 2265(a) & (b)

Can I have my out-of-state protection order changed, extended or canceled in Rhode Island?

No.  Only the state that issued your protection order can change, extend, or cancel the order.  You cannot have this done by a court in Rhode Island.

To have your order changed, extended, or canceled, you will have to file a motion or petition in the court where the order was issued.  You may be able to request that you attend the court hearing by telephone rather than in person, so that you do not need to return to the state where the abuser is living.  To find out more information about how to modify a restraining order, see the Restraining Orders page for the state where your order was issued.  Select the issuing state from the drop-down menu.

If your order does expire while you are living in Rhode Island, you may be able to get a new one issued in Rhode Island, but this may be difficult to do if no new incidents of abuse have taken place in Rhode Island.  To find out more information on how to get a restraining order in Rhode Island, visit our Domestic Violence Restraining Orders page.

I was granted temporary custody with my out-of-state protection order. Will I still have temporary custody of my children in Rhode Island?

Yes.  As long as the child custody provision complies with certain federal laws,1 Rhode Island can enforce a temporary custody order that is a part of a protection order.

To have someone read over your order and tell you if it meets these standards, contact a lawyer in your area.  To find a lawyer in your area click here RI Finding a Lawyer.

1 The federal laws are the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJA) or the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), and the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act of 1980.

 

Registering your out-of-state order in Rhode Island

If I don’t have a hard copy of my out-of-state order, how can law enforcement enforce it?

To enforce an out-of-state order, law enforcement typically may rely on the National Crime Information Center Protection Order File (NCIC-POF). The NCIC-POF is a nationwide, electronic database that contains information about orders of protection that were issued in each state and territory in the U.S. The Protection Order File (POF) contains court orders that are issued to prevent acts of domestic violence, or to prevent someone from stalking, intimidating, or harassing another person. It contains orders issued by both civil and criminal state courts. The types of protection orders issued and the information contained in them vary from state to state.1

There is no way for the general public to access the NCIC-POF. That means you cannot confirm a protection order is in the registry or add a protection order to the registry without the help of a government agency that has access to it.

Typically, the state police or criminal justice agency in the state has the responsibility of reporting protection orders to NCIC. However, in some cases, the courts have taken on that role and they manage the protection order reporting process.2 NCIC–POF is used by law enforcement agencies when they need to verify and enforce an out-of-state protection order. It is managed by the FBI and state law enforcement officials.

However, not all states routinely enter protection orders into the NCIC. Instead, some states may enter the orders only in their own state protection order registry, which would not be accessible to law enforcement in other states. According to a 2016 report by the National Center for State Courts, more than 700,000 protection orders that were registered in state protection order databases were not registered in the federal NCIC Protection Order File.2 This means that if a law enforcement officer is trying to enforce a protection order from another state that is missing from the NCIC, the victim would likely need to show the officer a hard copy of the order to get it immediately enforced. If you no longer have a copy of your original order, you may want to contact the court that issued the order to ask them how you can get another copy sent to you.

1 National Center for Protection Orders and Full Faith & Credit
2 See State Progress in Record Reporting for Firearm-Related Background Checks: Protection Order Submissions, prepared by the National Center for State Courts, April 2016

Do I have to register my protection order in Rhode Island in order to get it enforced?

No. Police officers must enforce your protection order whether or not you register it. If it is not registered, you will need to show the officer a copy of your protection order, and you may have to swear in writing that it is still in effect.1

While you do not have to register your protection order in order to get it enforced, one benefit of registration is that you may be able to get your order enforced, even if you are not carrying a copy of the order with you when the police officer arrives at the scene.2 Protection orders that are registered in Rhode Island are kept in RONCO, the Rhode Island Restraining Order/No Contact Order Registry, and Rhode Island police officers should have access to this registry when they come to the scene.

1 RI Gen. Laws § 12-29-1.1(b)
2 RI Gen. Laws § 12-29-1.1(b)

How do I register my protection order in Rhode Island?

You can file your protection order in any superior court, family court or district court by filing a certified copy of the order with the court. The court will make you swear under oath in an affidavit (a written statement) that to the best of your knowledge, the order is presently in effect as written. The order will then be entered into the Rhode Island Restrining Order/No Contact Order (RONCO) database.1

You do not need a lawyer to register your protection order. If you are confused or worried about the process, you can contact a local domestic violence organization in Rhode Island to ask for help from a local advocate. To find a local domestic violence organization in Rhode Island, please go to our RI Links and Resources page.

 1 RI Gen. Laws § 12-29-1.1(b)

Will the abuser be notified if I register my protection order?

Under the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which applies to all U.S. states and territories, the court is not permitted to notify the abuser when a protective order has been registered or filed in a new state unless you specifically request that the abuser be notified.1  However, you may wish to confirm that the clerk is aware of this law before registering the order if your address is confidential.

However, remember that there may be a possibility that the abuser could somehow find out what state you have moved to.  It is important to continue to safety plan, even if you are no longer in the state where the abuser is living.  We have some safety planning tips to get you started on our Safety Tips page.  You can also contact a local domestic violence organization to get help in developing a personalized safety plan.  You will find contact information for organizations in your area on our RI Advocates and Shelters page.

1 18 USC § 2265(d)

What if I don't register my protection order? Will it be more difficult to have it enforced?

Maybe.  If your order is not entered into the National Criminal Information Center (NCIC) database (a national database of protection orders that some states keep records in), and you do not have a copy of your order with you when the police officer arrives, it may be more difficult to have your order enforced because it will be hard for the Rhode Island police officer to make sure that your order is real.

However, if you have a certified copy of your protection order with you, or if it is listed in the NCIC, then it may not matter if your protection order is registered in Rhode Island or not.

If you are unsure about whether registering your order is the right decision for you, you may want to contact a local domestic violence organization in your area.  An advocate there can help you decide what the safest plan of action is for you in Rhode Island.  To see a list of local domestic violence organizations in Rhode Island, go to our RI Places that Help page.

Does it cost anything to register my protection order?

No. It does not cost anything to register your order.