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There are two types of protective orders.

A No Contact Order (NCO) 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.

A restraining order 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.

Read on for answers to frequently asked questions about restraining orders.

Where Do I Go to Apply?

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

  • District Court

  • Superior Court

Go to Family Court to apply for a restraining order if you are seeking protection against:

  • A spouse
  • A former spouse
  • A person with whom you have a child in common
  • An adult related to you by blood or marriage
  • A minor with whom you, also a minor, are in a dating relationship

Go to District Court to apply for a restraining order if you are seeking protection against:

  • An adult with whom you currently live
  • An adult with whom you have lived within the past three years
  • An adult with whom you are currently in a dating relationship or have been within the past year

Any person who does not qualify for a Family or District Court restraining order may apply for a Superior Court order.

Unlike with Family and District Court restraining orders, violation of a Superior Court order is not an arrestable offense.


What is the Criteria?

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

To obtain a Family or District Court restraining order, you must complete the required paperwork, including an affidavit describing the specific ways that the defendant physically or sexually abused you, threatened to abuse you, or stalked you.

Is There Any Cost?

Is there any cost to get a restraining order?

Family and District 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?

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 present 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 is It in Effect?

How long will the restraining order be in effect?

A Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) is issued when you first apply. This order will be in effect 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 If It is Violated?

What happens if the defendant violates the restraining order?

Violations of Family or District Court restraining orders are criminal offenses and can be punishable by up to one year in prison or up to a $1,000 fine.

Any contact made 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 to court for contempt of a court order.

What If I Already Have a NCO?

Do I need a restraining order if I already have a No Contact Order?

No Contact Orders (NCOs) 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.

A NCO will be in effect for the entire time the case is pending, and if, for example, the defendant is sentenced to one year suspended with probation, the NCO will be in effect for that full 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, a restraining order will serve as an additional protection for you and, in most cases, can be in effect longer than a No Contact Order.

What about Child Custody?

What if no formal custody agreement is in place for children I have in common with the defendant?

If no formal custody agreement is in place for children you have in common with the defendant, most judges will award the plaintiff temporary custody, but most judges will also order some type of visitation for the defendant.

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 Temporary Restraining Order.

For more details, contact a court advocate.

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