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Legal Information: Rhode Island

Restraining Orders

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Laws current as of November 30, 2023

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 Planning.  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 Planning 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 an Appeal 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.

If I get a protection order, will it show up in an internet search?

According to federal law, which applies to all states, territories, and tribal lands, the courts are not supposed to make available publicly on the internet any information that would be likely to reveal your identity or location. This applies to all of these documents:

  • the petition you file;
  • the protection order, restraining order, or injunction that was issued by the court; or
  • the registration of an order in a different state.1

1 18 USC § 2265(d)(3)

Is there anything I can do if my abusive partner continually files court proceedings against me?

Abusers often misuse court proceedings in order to continue the abuse. This is called abusive litigation. If you are the victim of abusive litigation by someone you have a domestic violence restraining order against, you can ask the judge to issue an order restricting abusive litigation. See our Litigation Abuse section for more information on how to do this.