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.
You can be eligible to file for a restraining order in family court if:
- 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;
- someone you have dated seriously or been engaged to within the past one year, if you are both adults and you have a minor child on your own or with the abuser;
- your minor child is the victim and the abuser is not related to your child by blood or marriage;
- the domestic abuse is committed between or against minor children of serious dating partners; or
- anyone, regardless of the relationship, has sexually exploited a minor child. In that case, the minor child can qualify for a restraining order.1
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:
- you are 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 regardless of whether you were romantically involved with the abuser or not; or
- you are 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 and you do not have any minor children.2
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), (8), 15-15-3(a)
2 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, 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. Note: The language of the law says that “a person” can file a petition on his/her own behalf,1 which perhaps can be interpreted to mean that a minor can file on his/her own behalf without a parent. However, if you are a minor who is hoping to file on your own, you may want to check with a lawyer at a free legal services organization to be sure that the court will accept your petition.
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:
- Simple assault
- Felony assault
- Disorderly conduct
- Sexual Assault
- Violation of Protective Order
- Damage or obstruct a telephone
- Burglary and unlawful entry
- Cyberstalking and cyberharassment
- Domestic assault by strangulation
- Electronic tracking of motor vehicles.2
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 Planning 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)