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Legal Information: Rhode Island

Restraining Orders

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Updated: 
April 27, 2018

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;
    • anyone related to you by blood or marriage (e.g., a brother-in-law or uncle);
    • anyone with whom you have a child in common, even if you were never married, didn’t have a long-term relationship, or never lived together; 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.*
  2. anyone, regardless of the relationship, has sexually exploited a minor child. In that case, the minor child can qualify for a restraining order.**

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 3 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.***

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.

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

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

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.*

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.

* 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.*

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.***

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.

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