The process is intended to be simple. You may go to the appropriate court (District Court or Family Court) where you live, or if you have just fled your home, you can also file in the town where you used to live. You will need to fill out a complaint alleging “abuse” as defined above. The complaint is under oath, so everything you say must be true. Try to put in as much detail as possible demonstrating why you feel threatened.
If you are in danger of harm, the Court can grant you a temporary protective order for not more than 21 days, which can include an order restraining your abuser from hurting you, barring him or her from entering your home, assigning child custody and requiring payment of child support. If the courts are closed (nights, holidays, weekends), you can contact the local or state police, who will be able to contact a judge on call to handle these matters.
The defendant/abuser must be served with (given a copy of) the court order and notified of his or her right to contest the order in court. Once the order is issued, it is filed with the state Bureau of Criminal Identification and is effective state-wide. Violation of a court order of which an abuser has notice is a criminal offense (R.I. Gen. Laws § 15-15-3 and § 8-8.1-3).
The Court will also assign a date for another hearing at which the temporary order will either be extended or dismissed. At that time, both parties often have attorneys. You should bring with you any witnesses who can substantiate the abuse, as well as copies of threatening letters, medical records, or any other documents which can show how you have been harmed and why you are afraid. Expect to be asked questions by both the judge and the attorney(s) for the abuser/defendant. You have the same right to ask questions.
If for some reason you decide not to go through with the legal process, you should show up in court anyway and ask that the order be dismissed. If you don’t show up, it is possible that the court will think you are unreliable and may hold that against you should you need legal help in the future.
There are other laws which prohibit stalking, harassing and trespassing which may apply to you, but are beyond the scope of this document.