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Rhode Island Family Law on Domestic Violence

Acts of domestic violence can greatly impact family dynamics and shape the legal rights of family members regarding divorce, child custody, and other matters related to family law. This article examines Rhode Island's domestic violence law and outlines how acts of domestic violence can impact divorce proceedings and child custody awards.

Code Section

Rhode Island Code section 12-29-2: Definition of Domestic Violence

What Qualifies as "Domestic Violence?"

Domestic violence includes (but isn't limited to) any of the following crimes when committed by one family or household member against another:
  • Simple assault
  • Felony assault
  • Vandalism
  • Disorderly conduct
  • Trespass
  • Kidnapping
  • Child-snatching
  • Sexual assault
  • Homicide
  • Violation of a protective order
  • Stalking
  • Refusal to relinquish or to damage or to obstruct a telephone
  • Burglary and unlawful entry
  • Arson
  • Cyberstalking and cyberharassment, and
  • Domestic assault by strangulation

Definition of "Family or Household Member"

A family or household member means:
  • Spouses (or former spouse)
  • Adults who are related by blood or marriage
  • Adults who reside together (or who resided together within the past three years)
  • People who have a child in common
  • People who are (or who have been) in a substantive dating or engagement relationship within the past year

Divorce and Restraining Orders

Courts in Rhode Island have the power to issue restraining orders when a spouse files for divorce based on the grounds that domestic violence has occurred. The restraining order may:

  • Restrain either spouse from interfering with the personal liberty of the other
  • Restrain either spouse from maliciously causing (or attempting to cause) bodily harm to the other, with or without a dangerous weapon, and/or
  • Restrain either party from placing, by physical menace or threat of physical menace, the other in fear of imminent bodily injury

If the court finds that any party has been so harmed, menaced, or threatened, then the court may prescribe out-patient counseling, and may regulate the custody and provide for the education, maintenance, and support of the children. Additionally, violation of a protective order issued under this section subjects the defendant to being found in contempt of court. Violating the order is a misdemeanor that is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, and/or imprisonment for up to one year.

Child Custody

When awarding child custody, courts consider which custody arrangement would be in the best interest of the child. Both parents must disclose to the court all instances of domestic violence, and resulting restraining orders. The court will take all evidence of domestic violence into account when determining child custody.

Additionally, the court will provide for the reasonable right of visitation by the child(ren)'s natural parent who doesn't have custody of the child, unless there is a showing of cause as to why this right shouldn't be granted. In some instances the court will order supervised visitation, or even terminate a parent's rights in extreme cases.

Additional Resources

State laws change frequently. For case specific information about Rhode Island's family law on domestic violence contact a local family law lawyer or criminal defense attorney.

If you are a domestic violence survivor there is help available for you. During an emergency dial 911, and when you're safe contact the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

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