Rhode Island Restraining Orders- Family Court, District Court and Superior Court

by Gregory N. Hoffman and Rui P. Alves

Restraining Orders Generally

Restraining orders are orders issued by a court to protect a person, child, business, entity or corporation from domestic violence, harassment, stalking or sexual assault. Generally, to obtain a restraining order in Rhode Island you must demonstrate that on a certain date or dates, the defendant caused abuse to you and/or your children when they:

  • Attempted to cause you and/or your children physical harm;
  • Caused you and/or your children physical harm;
  • Placed you and/or your children in fear of imminent physical harm;
  • Caused you and/or your children to engage involuntarily in sexual relations by force, threat of force or duress;
  • Committed stalking or cyber stalking against you and/or your children;
  • Committed a sexual assault against you and/or your children; or
  • Sex trafficked your children.

Which Court has Jurisdiction Over My Restraining Order?

The first step in filing for a restraining order is to determine which court has jurisdiction to hear your case. Whether you file your restraining order in Family Court, District Court or Superior Court depends upon against whom the restraining order is filed and the relationship, or lack thereof, between the parties. Below please find some basic guidance on how to determine where your restraining order should be filed.

Family Court Restraining Orders

If the party you are seeking a restraining order against is your husband, wife, ex-husband, ex-wife or family member by blood or marriage, it should be filed in Family Court. Similarly, if you have a pending divorce proceeding, a restraining order against your spouse should be filed in Family Court. In addition, if the restraining order is against a person with whom you have a child, it should be filed in Family Court. Finally, if the restraining order is being filed against or on behalf of a minor, or both parties are minors, Family Court is the appropriate venue.

Importantly, there are two (2) types of restraining orders that can be sought and issued by the Family Court known as a “Complaint Protection from Abuse” and a civil restraining order. In a Complaint Protection from Abuse, the Family Court has the authority to issue a Complaint for Protection from Abuse for up to three (3) years. In a Complaint for Protection from Abuse, the Family Court can also award temporary child support, visitation and custody, order that the defendant vacate and remain out of the household, and to surrender all firearms. Importantly, the violation of this type of restraining order constitutes a crime. A civil restraining order provides less protection because a violation is punishable by contempt proceedings.

District Court Restraining Orders

If the party you are seeking a restraining order against is a current boyfriend or girlfriend, or an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend with whom you had a substantial dating relationship during the past year but do not have a child with, you should file in District Court. Similarly, if you are filing a restraining order against a roommate, it should be done in the District Court. However, as stated above, if you are filing your restraining order against a current boyfriend or girlfriend or an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend with whom you share a child, its needs to be filed in the Family Court. Importantly, violations of a District Court restraining order can constitute a crime.

Restraining Orders in Superior Court

If the party you are seeking a restraining order against is a former friend, landlord, neighbor or anyone else, it should be filed in Superior Court. Similarly, if you are filing a restraining order on behalf of a business, it should be filed in Superior Court. Importantly, the violation of a Superior Court restraining order does not constitute a crime, but is punishable by contempt proceedings that could potentially result in a term of incarceration.

Are Restraining Orders the Same as No Contact Orders?

A No Contact Order can be issued by the court as a result of a domestic criminal charge. Generally, the No Contact Order is issued at a criminal arraignment or initial appearance and remains in effect until the criminal case is dismissed, the defendant is found not guilty or after any sentence expires, unlike a restraining order which remains in place for a set period of time unless vacated by the court. As a result, in certain situations it might be beneficial to seek a restraining order in addition to a No Contact Order.

For more information

Please contact us to discuss which type of restraining order is best for you, if you meet the criteria necessary to obtain a restraining order or if you need assistance in defending against a restraining order filed against you. Please contact Gregory N. Hoffman at ghoffman@bglaw.com and Rui P. Alves at ralves@bglaw.com or by phone at 401.273.7171.

Gregory N. Hoffman focuses his practice on complex family law, criminal law, general civil litigation and probate matters. He actively practices in the courts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island litigating cases such as divorce, child custody, child support, domestic violence, criminal defense and personal injury.  In addition, Greg devotes a significant amount of time developing comprehensive and cost-effective solutions in the drafting of a variety of domestic relations agreements such as Separation Agreements, Marital Settlement Agreements and Antenuptial Agreements.

 

Rui P. Alves is an experienced Rhode Island and Massachusetts litigator and advocate in family law, criminal law and government relations matters in both state and federal court. Rui concentrates his practice on helping individuals and corporations craft solutions for complex issues related to domestic relations, criminal defense and government affairs.