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How do I Get a Domestic Violence Restraining Order in Rhode Island?

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Recently updated on April 9th, 2024 at 12:13 am

Overview

A domestic violence protective order is a legal shield for those facing abuse within spouses, partners, cohabitating individuals, family members, and those in intimate or dating relationships, regardless of living arrangements.  It keeps the abuser to stay away and refrain from contact, aiming to ensure the victim's safety.

These orders have a fixed duration but can be extended if the threat persists. Violating the terms of the order carries severe penalties, such as fines or imprisonment, emphasizing the legal repercussions.

These orders provide essential protection for victims, offering a pathway to safety and empowerment. Seeking a protective order requires filing a petition with the court, supported by evidence of abuse.

Protective orders serve as a crucial tool in breaking the cycle of abuse and reclaiming control over one's life. They offer a sense of security and support for individuals facing difficult situations of domestic violence.

Definition of Domestic Violence in Rhode Island

This section (RI Gen. Laws §§ 8-8.1-1(4), (5)(iv)-(vii), (6), (8); 15-15-1(3), (4), (9) defines domestic abuse for the purposes of getting a domestic abuse restraining order in family court or in district court. Domestic abuse is when the abuser commits one of the following acts:

  • attempts to cause or causes you physical harm (with or without a weapon);
  • places you in fear of immediate serious physical harm (including threatening you with a weapon);
  • causes you to have sexual relations against your will by force, threat of force, or duress (coercion);
  • stalks you – stalking is defined as either:
    • harassment (behaving or acting in a way that intends to seriously alarm, annoy, or bother you, and which serves no legitimate (valid) purpose. His/her actions must reasonably cause you to suffer substantial emotional distress or to be in fear of bodily injury); or
    • maliciously and repeatedly following you with the intent to place you in reasonable fear of bodily injury, or
  • cyberstalks you (sends any communication by computer to you for the sole purpose of harassing you or your family).

In addition, a domestic abuse restraining order can be granted in family court on behalf of a minor child who is sexually exploited by anyone, regardless of his/her relationship to the child.

RI Gen. Laws § 15-15-3(a) “Domestic violence” is abuse perpetrated against any of the following persons:

  1. A spouse or former spouse.
  2. A cohabitant or former cohabitant.
  3. A person with whom the respondent is having or has had a dating or engagement relationship.
  4. A person with whom the respondent has had a child, where the presumption applies that the male parent is the father of the child of the female parent.
  5. A child of a party or a child who is the subject of an action under the Uniform Parentage Act, where the presumption applies that the male parent is the father of the child to be protected.
  6. Any other person related by consanguinity or affinity within the second degree.

Comparison with Criminal Case

If you're victims of domestic violence, then you can file the following legal cases:

  • Criminal Case: In a criminal case, the burden of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt, the highest burden of proof.
  • Domestic Violence Restraining Order: This is considered a family law case, and the victim has to give some evidence and generally the burden is low and the victim must establish “reasonable proof of a past act or acts of abuse”. For Domestic Violence Restraining Order, you just need evidence to support that abuse occurred which is defined as bodily injury or fear that you will get bodily injury.

The court considers accusations of abuse leniently, and favors on issuing orders as long as there is some evidence.

Does my situation qualify for a Domestic Violence Restraining Order (DVRO)?

Here's a summary of the different types of restraining orders.  There are a few different types of restraining orders and typically only one of them may apply to your situation. The first step is to see if any of the different types of restraining order applies to your situation or is remotely related as that might help you decide whether to apply.

The types are:

1. Domestic Abuse Protective Orders (DAPO)

DAPOs are available to victims of domestic abuse, including threats or violence by family or household members. Rhode Island General Laws § 15-15-3.

2. No Contact Orders

No Contact Orders may be issued in criminal cases involving domestic violence, sexual assault, or harassment. These orders prohibit the defendant from contacting the victim or going near them. Rhode Island General Laws § 12-29-4.

3. Stalking Protective Orders

Stalking Protective Orders are issued to victims of stalking or harassment. These orders provide protection against further contact or harassment by the perpetrator. Rhode Island General Laws § 12-29-4.1.

What if I am Under 18 years of Age?

Restraining orders can be requested by anyone 12 years or older, and without your parent's permission.  If you are under 18, then in some situations , a judge may ask you to have a trusted adult help you in your case after you have filed for the petition. such as a parent a counselor or a neighbor.

If you are under 18, you can go to your local court's Self-Help Center for help. For support and safety tips, you can chat at loveisrespect.org, text "LOVEIS" to 22522, or call 1-866-331-9474.

If you are 12 or older and someone has asked for a restraining order against you, you can go to court without a parent. In some situations, the judge may ask you to have a trusted adult help you in your case.

Situation Examples

Example 1: Husband is sexually and verbally abusive, and controlling

Sarah is married to John. John often says mean things to Sarah, making her feel small and worthless. Sometimes, when Sarah doesn't do what John wants, he gets angry and yells at her. One night, John forces Sarah to do something she doesn't want to do. She feels scared and helpless because she knows he won't listen to her. Sarah decides she needs help to stay safe from John's abuse.

Example 2: Boyfriend blackmails and destroys property to control and induce fear

Emily has been dating Mark for a few months. At first, everything seemed great, but soon, Mark started to become possessive and controlling. He threatens to share embarrassing photos of Emily if she doesn't do what he says. One day, Emily refuses to give in to his demands, so Mark smashes her phone and laptop. He tells her he'll ruin more of her things if she doesn't obey him. Emily feels trapped and scared of what Mark might do next.

Example 3: Ex-boyfriend stalks

Alex broke up with Sam a few weeks ago because the relationship wasn't working out. Since then, Sam has been following Alex everywhere, showing up at their workplace, home, and even when they're out with friends. Alex feels uncomfortable and scared because Sam won't leave them alone. They worry about what Sam might do next and just want to feel safe again.

Is a Restraining order helpful?

The purpose of a restraining order is to restrict the contact or proximity of one person (the respondent or alleged perpetrator) to another person (the petitioner or victim) in order to ensure the safety and well-being of the petitioner.

The specific terms of a restraining order can vary depending on the circumstances of the case e.g. if the people live together then it might require one party to vacate the place.

Typically, a restraining order may prohibit the respondent from

  1. Approaching or contacting the petitioner including via text or social media
  2. Staying away from the usual places petitioner is at such as home, work or school
  3. Prohibit stalking, or surveillance of any kind
  4. In situations where they lived together, provide custody or access to
    • Children
    • Pets
    • Important documents
    • Personal items such as clothes, medications, cell phones
    • Cars
  5. Extending the restraining to others living with the petitioner

Research findings on benefits of restraining orders

Here's the top three findings from a study on domestic violence and restraining orders from the University of New Hampshire

Reduce Violence

Civil protective orders (such as a DVRO) are effective in reducing partner violence for many women. For half the women in the sample, a protective order stopped the violence. For the other half, the orders significantly reduced violence and abuse.

Cost Effective

They are a relatively low-cost solution, particularly when compared with the social and personal costs of partner violence.

Urban Vs. Rural

The impact of civil protective orders on reducing violence and abuse did not differ for rural and urban women. In rural areas where resources and services for partner violence may be more limited, the restraining orders hold greater importance.

Process for getting a restraining order

Step 1: Gather Evidence

The first step is to gather the evidence to support your case. The fallowing are considered as evidence of domestic violence

Evidence Type 1: Pending Criminal Case

Judges are also more likely to issue an order if there is an ongoing criminal case, therefore it's important to call such cases out when seeking a temporary restraining order.

When a judge sees that there's a criminal case happening, they might think it means the police or the district attorney are pretty sure they can prove the crime happened.

Examples of evidence are:

Evidence Type 2: Photos of violence, injuries, damage

These are the most common types of evidence submitted. These can be photos of victim's injuries inflicted by the abuser. It is helpful to add photos next to the related incident description to help create a complete picture for the judge.

Evidence Type 3: Print outs of messages, emails or transcripts of voicemail

You can take screenshots of text messages and attach them. Similarly you can print emails and attach them as pictures or PDF files. While in most cases you cannot submit digital files such as

Evidence Type 4: 911 Calls

Rather than just saying you called 911 or any specific hotline, you can make your case stronger by listing the following items

  • The number dialed in case of the domestic hotline
  • The date and time (or approximate date and time) when the call was made
  • Who made the call
  • What was reported on the call
  • Any specific details of the person who answer the 911 call e.g. male/female voice

Evidence Type 5:  Medical Records

You can attach documentation of previous medical emergencies or injuries that resulted from the actions of the abuser. These could be hospital visit records, print outs from your hospital portal (E.g. mychart) showing details of your visit.

Evidence Type 6:  Police reports

You can attach a copy of the police reports filed against abuser for domestic violence.

Evidence Type 7:  Testimony

A testimony from a witness. The witness can be anyone such as a family member, neighbor a co-worker or a bystander. The testimony is just an essay written describing the incidents witnessed, with as many specifics as possible.

Step 2: Get a copy of court forms 

In order to apply for a civil restraining order, you need to fill and submit a specific set of official court forms. These have questions aimed at understanding your situation and the people involved.

The complete set of documents is at the Rhode Island Courts website. While these forms are used in most courts, certain courts use modified versions of these forms, and its important to uses those versions.

Tip: You can check your local court's website to see the exact versions and set of court forms needed. You need to prepare these forms. Courts also offer a free self help center where you can take forms. Alternatively you can use a free website such as LegalAtoms to prepare the restraining orders paperwork online.

 

Nothing happens until you file the forms. So its a good idea to step through the forms even if you think you don't plan to file for a restraining order right now, to get

You can then file them online when you've thought through all aspects.  There are special protections for victims, and you're protected even if your immigration status is undocumented in United States.

 

Step 3: File the Court Forms 

Submit your case documents at the court such that the clerk reviews their corrects and accepts them is called filing.

Identify the court at your county

In Rhode Island, if you need to apply for a Domestic Violence Restraining order (DVRO), you'll typically go to the Rhode Island District Courts and Family Courts in your county.

The Rhode Island District Courts and Family Courts where you can apply for Domestic Violence Restraining orders (DVRO) in some of the major counties in Rhode Island:

  • Providence County Family Court (Providence):

Address: Rhode Island Family Court, Garrahy Judicial Complex, 1 Dorrance St, Providence, RI 02903

  • Kent County District Court (Warwick):

Address: Kent County Courthouse, 222 Quaker Ln, Warwick, RI 02886

  • Washington County District Court (Wakefield):

Address: Washington County Courthouse, 4800 Tower Hill Rd, Wakefield, RI 02879

  • Newport County District Court (Newport):

Address: Newport County Courthouse, 45 Washington Square, Newport, RI 02840

  • Bristol County District Court (Bristol):

Address: Bristol County Courthouse, 240 Wood St, Bristol, RI 02809

 

Methods of Filing

Method # 1: In Person:

Your court location would accept the forms to be submitted in person at the court hours.

Tip: All courts have lunch hours when they are closed for an hour

When you submit your case documents at the court, typically you take 3 copies.

The clerks reviews it, and if everything is ok, they formally enter it into the court system and put a stamp near the top of the documents. That acceptance is called filing.

Method # 2:  Electronically via a portal

Some counties now have one or more online portals where you create an account for free, and then you can upload documents and hit submit. You will be required to pay around $5-$10 filing fees.

Method # 3:  Via another person 

Some counties accept filing via a friend or legal courier. These companies or individuals charge a flat or hourly fee and file the documents at the court.

Step 4: Get a Temporary Order 

Depending on the facts and evidence presented, a Judge can issue a restraining order with immediate effect until the hearing, called an Emergency Temporary Order.  In relatively less risky situations, a temporary order is issued in a few days.

If there are no grounds or if the application is incomplete or the jurisdiction is incorrect the application may be rejected.

The temporary order is only valid for about 3 weeks which is the amount of time until the hearing. If the hearing is delayed for any reason, you need to check with the court to ensure the temporary order is renewed until the hearing.

Step 5: Serve the abuser 

If you were successful in getting a temporary order only then this step is necessary, otherwise you will have to wait until you get one.

 

In the Rhode Island legal system, whenever one party initiates a restraining order it needs to inform or serve the other party formally by delivering the court documents. That step is called serving the respondent, and is often seen in movies and TV shows as "You've been served".

Under the Rhode Island law there are multiple ways in which the other party can be served.

 

You cannot  serve your papers yourself.

Option 1:  Ask a Cop (FREE)

A sheriff or marshal can serve the opposing party for you which is a big help. This service is offered for FREE. You will however need the address of the abuser. To ask the sheriff to serve your papers, you must have an address or location for the other side (restrained person). If the other side is in jail, the sheriff can serve them. If the other side is in prison, prison staff, not the sheriff, will serve your papers. Follow the instructions by the Rhode Island Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for serving someone in prison

 

Option 2: Ask a friend, relative or any adult (FREE)

You ask someone you know to be your server

  • 18 or over, and
  • not part of your case

Think about safety when choosing your server. Get step-by-step instructions for how to have someone else, not the sheriff, serve your court papers in the County.

 

Option 3: Hire a specialized courier

You can also hire a courier called  professional process server. You can search on Yelp or Google to get a list of options near you. Yelp Example. An example is ABC Legal Services.

You cannot hire regular couriers such as UPS, FedEx or US Postal Service unless in exceptional scenarios where the judge authorizes service by mail, but that's a whole different topic altogether.

Step 6: Present Evidence in a Court Hearing 

Attend a hearing: The court holds a hearing within a couple of weeks where the evidence is examined. If there is sufficient supporting evidence as determined by a Judge, a full restraining order is issued. At this point it becomes a crime for the abuser to break the conditions of the restraining order.

Step 7. Collect the Final Order

After the hearing, a final order may be issued. You can take a paper copy of the order with you. The order is typically valid for five years.

Costs

There are no costs associated with a Domestic Violence Restraining Order.

  • FREE forms : You can get the court forms for free, or prepare them using the guided experience below.
  • FREEfiling: There is fees for filing. Online filing platforms may charge a service fees

 

Process Duration

You can get a temporary restraining order the same day as you file.

Courts can have a cutoff of around 2 p.m.  for the same day service, so you need to file before then. Otherwise, the order would be issued the following day when courts open.

Courts are generally open Monday-Friday and closed on Saturday-Sunday.

The temporary order is valid until a formal hearing is held in which both parties need to be present. Typically a hearing is scheduled in 2 weeks of filing.

At the hearing a formal order may be issued

 

Risks

It is conceivable that following the submission of a civil protection order, the abuser particularly in domestic violence situations may react with anger due to the perceived loss of control over you and your household. In certain instances, the abuser may portray themselves as the victim and shift blame onto the actual victim they were mistreating.

The response of your abuser after the filing of a restraining order is unpredictable. While a Domestic Violence Restraining Order (DVRO) can provide legal protection, one should not automatically assume that it guarantees safety. The initial weeks post-filing can be particularly precarious, contingent on your abuser's reaction.

Despite the safeguards intended by a DVRO, abusers may retaliate through various means, such as:

  1. Physical assault or violence
  2. Harming or taking away children
  3. Damaging jointly owned property
  4. Disregarding the order and persisting with threats, possibly through intermediaries
  5. Inflicting harm or causing harm to pets
  6. Harassing your loved ones for information
  7. Engaging in stalking behavior
  8. Initiating a retaliatory restraining order against you
  9. Spreading false information about you in court documents, online, or publicly

Following the submission of a domestic violence Restraining order, it's important to continuously assess your situation and prepare for the potential escalation of your case into more violent territory.

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