Step 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 Advocates and Shelters to find an organization in your area.
Step 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.
Step 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.
Step 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.1 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.
1 Wis. Stat. § 813.12(2m)
Step 5: Service of process
The clerk of the circuit court will forward to the sheriff any temporary restraining order, injunction, or other document or notice that must be served on the respondent and the sheriff is supposed to serve the respondent. (Or you can choose to use a private process server at your own expense.)1 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.
If the respondent does not receive notice of the hearing, the hearing may be rescheduled if you request it. 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.2 (Note: The option of serving by publication applies to domestic abuse and harassment injunctions only; not child abuse orders and individuals at risk orders.)3 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 Advocates and Shelters.
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.2 This proof of service is especially important if the abuser does not show up in court.
You can find more information about service of process in our Preparing for Court – By Yourself section, in the question called What is service of process and how do I accomplish it?
1 Wis. Stat. § 813.12(6)(ag)1
2 Wis. Stat. §§ 813.12(2)(a); 813.125(2)(a)
3 Wis Stat. §§ 813.25(3)(d); 813.122(2); 813.123(2)(a)
Step 6: The hearing
On the day of the injunction hearing, you must go to the hearing to ask to have your temporary order turned into a final domestic abuse restraining order (injunction). If you do not go to the hearing, your temporary order will expire and you will have to start the process all over again. If you are age 60 or older, you can participate in the hearing by telephone or with an internet streaming service,1 such as Zoom.
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” 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.
1 Wis. Stat. § 813.12(1)(ar), (5b)