Common Questions About Protective Orders

There are two types of protective orders. A No Contact Order is related to a criminal charge and is issued at the time of arraignment. A No Contact Order is in effect for the entire length of the criminal case, including through the length of the sentence. It can be dropped only at the request of the victim with the approval of a judge.

Restraining orders can be sought whether or not there is a criminal case. Restraining orders can be issued when there has been physical or sexual abuse, threats of violence, or stalking.

Where do I go to apply for a restraining order?

It depends on your relationship with the person whom you are seeking protection against. Use the following guidelines to determine which court you will go to:

Family Court:

  • Spouses
  • Former Spouses
  • Child in Common
  • Adults related by blood/marriage
  • Juveniles in a dating relationship

District Court:

  • Adults who live together currently or have lived together within the past three years
  • Adults in a dating relationship currently or within the past year

Superior Court:

  • Any person who does not qualify for a Family or District Court restraining order may apply for a Superior Court order. Violation of the order is not an arrestable offense.

What is the criteria for obtaining a District or Family Court restraining Order?

You must complete the required paperwork, including an affidavit describing the specific ways that the defendant either physically or sexually abused you, threatened to abuse you, or stalked you.

Is there any cost to get a restraining order?

District and Family Court restraining orders are granted free of charge. If the defendant lives out of state, there may be a fee for service of the order, depending on the state's policy. There is a fee for Superior Court orders.

Do I need an attorney to obtain a restraining order?

You can either represent yourself (pro se), or you can hire an attorney. It is preferable to have an attorney if there are children involved, or if a divorce is pending. If you cannot afford to hire an attorney, you can contact RI Legal Services at 401-274-2652, and ask if you qualify for representation.

How long will the order be in effect?

A Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) is issued when you first apply. This order is good for up to 21 days, to allow time for the defendant to be served. If the defendant cannot be located for service, the TRO will be extended and a new summons issued. If the Restraining Order is granted at the second hearing, it can be in effect for up to three years, depending on the circumstances. Before the order expires, you can return to the court to apply for an extension if you are still in fear of the defendant.

What happens if the defendant violates the Order?

Violations of the Family or District Court Restraining Orders are criminal offenses, and can be punishable by up to one year in prison, or up to $1,000 fine. Any contact in person, by phone, letter, email, or through a third party is considered a violation of the restraining order (there may be some exceptions to this depending on the case). Violations of a Superior Court Restraining Order are considered civil violations, so the defendant must be brought back in to court for contempt of a court order.

Do I need a Restraining Order if I already have a No Contact Order?

No Contact Orders are connected to a criminal case, and they will expire when the case is disposed, either through acquittal or the end of the defendant's sentence. So, for example, the NCO will be in effect for the entire time the case is pending, and if the defendant is sentenced to one year suspended with probation, the NCO will be in effect for that year. If there are children involved in the relationship who are not covered under the NCO, you may consider applying for a Restraining Order on behalf of the children. Even if there are no children involved, the restraining order serves as an additional protection for you, and in most cases can be in effect longer than the NCO.

What if there is no formal custody agreement for our children?

Most judges will award the plaintiff temporary custody of the children, but most judges will also order some type of visitation for the defendant. So, if you have any concerns about the defendant having access to the children, you should contact an attorney or speak with an advocate before filing for the TRO.

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