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Legal Information: Rhode Island

Restraining Orders

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Laws current as of November 30, 2023

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?