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Know the Laws: Wisconsin

UPDATED September 1, 2016

Domestic Abuse Injunctions

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A domestic abuse injunction is a civil order that provides protection for adult victims of abuse from harm by certain adult abusers with whom the victim has a specific relationship.

Basic information

back to topWhat is the legal definition of domestic abuse in Wisconsin?

Domestic abuse in Wisconsin includes the following:

  • intentionally causing physical pain, physical injury or illness;
  • intentionally harming your physical condition;
  • sexual assault;
  • stalking;
  • destruction of property belonging to you; and
  • threatening to do any of the above acts.*

Note: Harassing or stalking behavior is also covered under a different type of restraining order called a harassment restraining order.

* Wis. Stat. § 813.12(1)(am)

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back to topHow can a domestic abuse injunction help me?

A temporary restraining order may:

  • order the abuser to stop committing acts of domestic abuse against you;
  • order the abuser to stay away from your residence, or any other location you are temporarily occupying, or both. Note: If you and the abuser are unmarried and the abuser owns the home where you are both living (and you do not have any legal interest in that property), the judge may order the abuser to stay away from the property until you have a chance to move;
  • order the abuser to avoid contacting you directly or through a third party, with the exception of the abuser's attorney and any law enforcement officer;
  • order the abuser not to remove, hide, damage, harm, mistreat, or dispose of, a household pet;
  • order the abuser to allow you or your family member or household member acting on your behalf to retrieve (get) a household pet; and
  • grant other relief that you request, if the judge finds the relief is necessary for your protection.*

A final domestic abuse injunction may:

  • include all of the protections available through a temporary restraining order, listed above; and
  • order a wireless telephone provider to transfer the right to use your telephone number to you and transfer your account to you.**

If a judge grants you a domestic abuse injunction, s/he must order the abuser to hand over any firearms in his/her possession to the authorities and forbid him/her from buying firearms (unless the abuser is a peace officer and is required to possess a gun as a condition of his/her job).**

Note: For more information about federal and state gun laws and exceptions, see our WI State Gun Laws page and our Federal Gun Laws page.

Whether a judge or court commissioner orders any or all of the above depends on the facts of your case.

* Wis. Stat. § 813.12(3)(a),(3)(am)
** Wis. Stat. § 813.12(4)(a),(am),(4g),(4m)(a)(2),(ag)

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Who can get an injunction

back to topAm I eligible to file for a domestic abuse injunction?

If you are an adult, you may be able to file against any of the following people who have committed domestic abuse against you (the abuser must also be an adult):

  • a current or former spouse;
  • a parent;
  • an adult child;
  • a person related to you by blood or adoption;
  • a person with whom you currently live or formerly lived;
  • anyone with whom you have had a child, even if you were never married to him/her;
  • someone you are dating or have dated; or
  • a caregiver.*

You can also file for a domestic abuse injunction on behalf of a incapacitated adult who is the victim of domestic abuse if you are that adult's legal guardian.**

If you are being abused or harassed by someone who does not fit into one of the above-listed relationships, there are other types of orders that you may be eligible for.  You can find more information on our child abuse restraining order page, our harassment restraining order page, and our individual at risk restraining order page.

Note: Domestic abuse injunctions do not offer protection from step-parents, step-siblings or step-children unless you live with them or used to live with them.

* Wis. Stat. § 813.12(1)(am),(b),(c)
** Wis. Stat. § 813.12(5)(d)

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back to topCan I get an injunction against a same-sex partner?

In Wisconsin, you may apply for an injunction against a current or former same-sex partner as long as the relationship meets the requirements listed in Am I eligible to file for a domestic abuse injunction?  You must also be the victim of an act of domestic abuse, which is explained here What is the legal definition of domestic abuse in Wisconsin?

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back to topWhat types of domestic abuse orders are there? How long do they last?

In Wisconsin, there is a two-step process to get a domestic abuse injunction.  The process starts by requesting a temporary domestic abuse restraining order.

Temporary domestic abuse restraining order
A temporary restraining order is a court order designed to protect you and your family from immediate danger.  It can be granted without the abuser being in court and without his/her knowledge.  The temporary restraining order cannot be enforced until the abuser has been served with the order.  In general, a temporary order will last until the court hearing for a final order, which will usually be within 14 days.*  You must attend the court hearing to receive a final order.

Temporary restraining orders may be extended for two weeks if the abuser cannot be located before your first temporary order expires.*1

Final domestic abuse injunctions
An injunction is a court order designed to protect you and your family from domestic abuse in a more permanent way than a temporary restraining order.

After the judge has given you a temporary restraining order, a court date will be set for the final injunction hearing.  If you did not receive a temporary restraining order, a hearing for a final injunction can be scheduled if you request a court date.*2  An injunction can be issued only after the abuser has received notice and has an opportunity to attend a court hearing in front of a judge or court commissioner.  At the hearing, you and the abuser will both have a chance to present evidence, testimony, witnesses, etc.  The final injunction can last for the amount of time that you request, up to 4 years.*3  However, there is a possibility that the injunction can last for up to 10 years if you can prove there is a substantial risk that the respondent may commit any of these crimes against you: first-degree intentional homicidesecond-degree intentional homicidesexual assault or sexual assault of a child (sections (1) or (2)).*4

* Wis. Stat. § 813.12(2)(c)
*1 Wis. Stat. § 813.12(3)(c)
*2 Wis. Stat. § 813.12(2m)
*3 Wis. Stat. § 813.12(4)(c)(1)
*4 Wis. Stat. § 813.12(4)(d)(1)

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back to topHow much does it cost? Do I need a lawyer?

There are no fees for filing for a domestic abuse injunction.*

You do not need a lawyer to file for a domestic abuse injunction.  However, you may wish to have a lawyer, especially if the abuser has a lawyer.  Even if you can’t get a lawyer to represent you, you might want to get advice from a lawyer to make sure that your legal rights are protected.

If you cannot afford a lawyer but want one to help you with your case, you can find information on legal assistance on our WI Finding a Lawyer page.  Domestic violence organizations in your area also should be able to help you through the legal process and may have lawyer referrals.  Please see our WI State and Local Resources page for organizations in your area.

* Wis. Stat. § 814.61(1)(d)

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The steps for getting a domestic abuse injunction

back to topStep 1: Get the necessary paperwork.

First, you will need to fill out the necessary forms for a domestic abuse injunction.

You can get the forms from the clerk at the courthouse, but you may want to find them before you go and fill them out at home or with an advocate from a domestic violence organization  You will find links to forms online on the WI Download Court Forms page.

Most shelters and other domestic violence prevention organizations can provide support for you while you fill out these papers and may even accompany you to court for support if you do not have a lawyer.  Go to WI State and Local Programs to find an organization in your area.

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back to topStep 2: Carefully fill out the petition.

On the petition, you will be the "petitioner" and the abuser will be the "respondent."

In the space provided for explaining why you want the injunction, write about the most recent incident of violence along with other incidents that have happened in the past, using specific language (slapping, hitting, grabbing, threatening, etc.) that fits your situation.  Include details and dates, if possible.  Clerks can show you which blanks to fill in, but they cannot help you decide what to write.

The domestic abuse injunction process starts by requesting a temporary restraining order.  The abuser does not have to be in court with you or be told beforehand that you are asking the judge or court commissioner for a temporary restraining order.

Note: Do not sign the court forms until you are in front of a notary or a clerk.  The clerk can usually notarize the forms for you.

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back to topStep 3: File the forms at the courthouse.

You will need to file the court forms in the circuit court.  To file the forms, go to the clerk of court.  The forms must be filed during business hours.  Tell the clerk that you want to file for a domestic abuse injunction.  You can ask for a temporary restraining order, a domestic abuse injunction, or both on the same form.  To find contact information for the courthouse in your area, click on our WI Courthouse Locations page.

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back to topStep 4: A judge will review your petition.

When you have filed the forms with the clerk of court, s/he will bring your paperwork to the judge or court commissioner.  The judge may want to ask you questions about your petition.  If the judge believes you are in serious and immediate danger, s/he may give you a temporary (ex parte) restraining order which is good for 14 days, or until your full court hearing.

If the judge does not give you a temporary restraining order, you still can go forward with your request for a domestic abuse injunction (as long as your case is not dismissed).  To request a  hearing on the final injunction when you were not given a temporary restraining order, you will file a motion requesting one.*  The hearing for the final injunction will be in front of a judge or court commissioner.  At this hearing, you and the abuser will both have a chance to explain your sides of the story by presenting evidence, testimony, witnesses, etc.  At the end of this hearing, the judge will decide whether or not to give you a final injunction.

* Wis. Stat. § 813.12(2m)

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back to topStep 5: Service of process

The abuser must be served with a notice of hearing, the petition that you filed, and a copy of the temporary restraining order that the judge granted you.  Restraining orders are not enforceable until the abuser is served with the order so that s/he knows that one has been issued against him/her.  If the respondent does not receive notice of the hearing, the hearing may be rescheduled if either you or the respondent requests that it be rescheduled.  However, if you are unable to have the abuser served because s/he is avoiding service (for example, by hiding from the sheriff), you can file an affidavit in court explaining all of the attempts that were made at service.  At that point, the judge or circuit court commissioner can allow you to serve the respondent by publication in a newspaper and by mailing or faxing a copy to the respondent if you know or can find out his/her address or fax number.* (Note: The option of serving by publication applies to domestic abuse and harassment injunctions only; not child abuse orders and individuals at risk orders).**  You can talk to the clerk of court or to someone at a domestic violence organization to try to get help with service by publication. See WI State and Local Programs.

The court must send copies of the order and notice of hearing to the police or sheriff so that they can serve the abuser.  However, it is still up to you to make sure that the abuser is served.  Wisconsin's VINELink can help you keep track of the status of service.  You may have to provide contact information, like home or work address, for the abuser so that the police or sheriff can find him/her.  Do not try to serve the abuser yourself.

Note: Be sure to obtain written proof from law enforcement that the restraining order was served because the court will ask for that proof at your full court hearing.  It is your responsibility to contact the sheriff to make sure that the papers were served.*  This proof of service is especially important if the abuser does not show up in court.

* Wis. Stat. §§ 813.12(2)(a); 813.125(2)(a) 
** Wis Stat. §§ 813.25(3)(d); 813.122(2); 813.123(2)(a)

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back to topStep 6: The hearing

On the day of the injunction hearing, you must go to the hearing to ask to have your temporary order (good for up to 14 days) turned into a final domestic abuse restraining order (also called an injunction), which can last for up to 4 years (or up to 10 years if you can prove there is a substantial risk that the respondent may commit any of these crimes against you: first-degree intentional homicidesecond-degree intentional homicidesexual assault or sexual assault of a child (sections (1) or (2))*.

If you do not go to the hearing, your temporary order will expire and you will have to start the process all over again.  The abuser does not have to show up to the hearing for you to get the final injunction. The judge may still grant you a final injunction or the judge may reschedule the hearing (if either you or the abuser requests a continuance).

You may wish to get a lawyer to help with your case, especially if the abuser has a lawyer. You can also represent yourself.  If the abuser shows up with a lawyer, you can ask the judge for a "continuance" (a later court date) so that you have time to find a lawyer. (Go to our WI Finding a Lawyer page to find help in your area.)

If you absolutely cannot go to the hearing at the scheduled time, you may call the court to ask if you can request that your case be "continued" but the judge may deny your request.

Wis. Stat. § 813.12(4)(c)(1),(d)(1)

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After the hearing

back to topWhat should I do when I leave the courthouse?

Here are some things you may want to consider doing.  However, you will have to evaluate each one to see if it works for your situation.

  • Review the order before you leave the courthouse.  If something is wrong or missing, ask the clerk to correct the order before you leave.
  • If you are concerned that the abuser will harass you when you leave the courthouse, ask the court officer if s/he would escort you to the door of the building.  If you are afraid the abuser may follow you once you leave the courthouse, explain this to the court officer.  The court officer might hold the abuser there for a few minutes while you leave so that you can get a head start , which would make it difficult for the abuser to trail you.  This could be especially important if you are living in a shelter or confidential location and you do not want the abuser to know where you are staying.
  • Make several copies of the injunction as soon as possible.
  • Keep a copy of the order with you at all times.
  • Leave copies of the order at your work place, at your home, at the children's school or daycare, in your car, with a sympathetic neighbor, and so on.
  • Give a copy to the security guard or person at the front desk where you live and/or work along with a photo of the abuser.
  • Give a copy of the order to anyone who is named in and protected by the order.
  • If the court has not given you an extra copy for your local law enforcement agency, take one of your extra copies and deliver it to them.
  • You may wish to consider changing your locks (if permitted by law) and your phone number.  In some counties, there might be a domestic violence agency that would change your locks for free if you have an order of protection.  Ongoing safety planning is important after receiving the order. People can do a number of things to increase their safety during violent incidents, when preparing to leave an abusive relationship, and when they are at home, work, and school.  Many batterers obey restraining orders, but some do not.  It is important to build on the things you have already been doing to keep yourself safe.  Click on the following link for suggestions on Staying Safe.  Advocates at local resource centers can also assist you in designing a safety plan and can provide other forms of support as well.

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back to topI was not granted a domestic abuse injunction. What are my options?

If you are not granted a domestic abuse injunction, there are still some things you can do to stay safe.  It might be a good idea to contact one of the domestic violence resource centers in your area to get help, support, and advice on how to stay safe.  They can help you develop a safety plan and help connect you with the resources you need.  For safety planning help, ideas, and information, go to our Staying Safe page.  You will find a list of Wisconsin resources under our WI Where to Find Help page.

If you were not granted a domestic abuse injunction because your relationship with the abuser or the type of abuse you experienced does not qualify under the law, you may be able to seek protection through one of these orders:

You may also be able to reapply for a domestic abuse restraining order if there has been a new incident of domestic abuse after you are denied the restraining order.

If you believe the judge made an error of law by denying you the order, you can talk to a lawyer about the possibility of an appeal.  Generally, appeals are complicated and you will most likely need the help of a lawyer.  You may find a lawyer on our WI Finding a Lawyer page, and you can read about appeals on our Filing Appeals page.

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back to topWhat if the abuser violates the order?

Intentionally violating an injunction is against the law.  There are two ways to get help if the abuser violates the injunction – through the criminal court and the civil court.

Through the Police or Sheriff
If the abuser violates the injunction, you can call 911 immediately.  In some cases, the abuser can be arrested right away.*  Tell the officers you have a restraining order and the abuser is violating it.

It is a good idea to write down the name of the responding officers and their badge number in case you want to follow up on your case.  Make sure a police report is filled out.  If you have legal documentation of all violations of the order, it could help you if you ever want to have the order extended or modified.

If the abuser is arrested, then the district attorney can prosecute the abuser because it is a crime to violate an injunction.  If s/he is found guilty of a violation of a restraining order, the abuser may be fined and/or put in jail.

Through the Civil Court System
You may file for “civil contempt” for a violation of the order.  The abuser can be held in civil contempt if s/he does anything that your injunction tells him/her not to do.  To file for civil contempt, go to the clerk's office and tell him/her that your abuser has violated the injunction and you want to file for civil contempt.  A finding of civil contempt can result in a fine or jail time for the abuser.**

Note: If the abuser violates the order and the police do not make an arrest or charge the abuser with a violation of a court order, you can contact the Wisconsin Office of Crime Victim Services if you feel the police did not take appropriate action.  You might also want to get the help of a domestic violence advocate who may be able to help advocate with the police or the district attorney on your behalf.

* Wis. Stat. § 813.12(7)(am)
** Wis. Stat. § 785.04(1)

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back to topCan a final domestic abuse injunction be changed or extended?

To make changes to your order or to extend it, you can go back to the court where you got the order and file a petition with the clerk. 

A judge can extend the order based on your statement that the extension is necessary to protect you.  The order can only be extended for a period of time to equal 4 years from date that the judge first entered the original injunction (order).*  So, for example, if your initial order lasted 3 years, the extension can last for 1 year, totaling 4 years.  The judge can extend the order in this way without giving prior notice to the respondent.** 

However, there is a possibility that the injunction can be extended for a period of time (from the initial order) that equals 10 years if you can prove there is a substantial risk that the respondent may commit any of these crimes against you: first-degree intentional homicidesecond-degree intentional homicidesexual assault or sexual assault of a child (sections (1) or (2)).***

You can request that a judge modify (change) your injunction, but the judge cannot change it based only on the abuser’s request.****

* Wis. Stat. § 813.12(4)(c)(2)
** Wis. Stat. § 813.12(4)(c)(4)
*** Wis. Stat. § 813.12(4)(d)(1)
**** Wis. Stat. § 813.12(4)(b)

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back to topWhat happens if I move?

If you move anywhere in the U.S., your domestic abuse injunction will still be valid.  You might want to call the clerk of the court that issued your injunction to change your address.  However, if you are moving to an address that the abuser does not know about, be sure to tell the clerk that your new address is confidential.  If you move to a new county within Wisconsin, you may also want to contact the court clerk in that county to make sure that they have a copy of your restraining order on file, and that the police are aware of it as well.  Check the list of WI  Courthouse Locations for contact information for the clerk of courts.

If you move outside of Wisconsin, federal law provides what is called "full faith and credit," which means that once you have a criminal or civil restraining or protection order, it follows you and is enforceable wherever you go, including U.S. territories and tribal lands.  However, each state has its own laws and procedures. 

Any person with a valid injunction (an order that has not expired) who relocates to another state may want to inquire at a court or with law enforcement agency for instructions on the registration and enforcement of orders in that state.  You may also call the National Center on Protection Orders and Full Faith & Credit (1-800-903-0111) for information on enforcing your order in another state.

See Moving to Another State with a WI Restraining Order for more information.

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