What is the legal definition of harassment in Wisconsin?
For the purposes of getting a harassment restraining order, the legal definition of “harassment” includes:
- striking, shoving, kicking or otherwise subjecting another person to physical contact;
- child abuse (as defined by law);
- sexual assault;
- attempting or threatening to commit any of the above acts; and
- repeated acts that harass or intimidate another person and which serve no legitimate (valid) purpose.1
1 Wis. Stat. § 813.125(1)
What types of harassment restraining orders are there? How long do they last?
There are temporary and final harassment restraining orders (also called injunctions). A temporary order may be granted by a judge or circuit court commissioner if s/he finds reasonable grounds to believe that the abuser has intentionally harassed or intimidated the victim.1 The temporary order lasts for 14 days or until the full court hearing.2
A final harassment restraining order or injunction, can be granted only after a full court hearing where the victim and abuser both get a chance to tell their sides of the story. If granted, a final harassment restraining order may last for 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 homicide, second-degree intentional homicide, sexual assault or sexual assault of a child (sections (1) or (2)).4
1 Wis. Stat. § 813.125(3)(a)(1)
2 Wis. Stat. § 813.125(3)(c)
3 Wis. Stat. § 813.125(4)(c)
4 Wis. Stat. § 813.125(4)(d)
What protections can I get in a harassment restraining order?
A harassment restraining order (both the temporary order and the injunction) can order the abuser to:
- not have contact with you directly or indirectly (except through his/her attorney or a law enforcement officer);
- not harass you;
- stay away from your home and/or any place where you are temporarily living;
- not remove, hide, damage, harm, mistreat, or get rid of a household pet;
- allow you or someone on your behalf to get a household pet from the home;1 and
- surrender any firearms that s/he owns or has in his/her possession to the sheriff - however, this can only be ordered in an injunction (not in a temporary order) and you must present “clear and convincing evidence” at the hearing that the abuser may use a firearm to cause physical harm to you or another person or to endanger public safety.2 (However, if the abuser is a peace officer, this does not apply to any firearm that s/he is required to possess, as a condition of employment, while s/he is on or off duty.)3
Note: If you share a wireless telephone number with the abuser, you can request that the judge order the service provider to transfer to you the right to continue to use any telephone number(s) that you and/or your minor child uses (and you will have to take over payments for that account).4
1 Wis. Stat. § 813.125(3)(a),(4)(a)
2 Wis. Stat. § 813.125(4m)(a),(c)(2)
3 Wis. Stat. § 813.125(4m)(cg)
4 Wis. Stat. § 813.125(4g)
In which county do I file the petition?
You can file a petition for a harassment restraining order in any of the following counties:
- where you live;
- where you are temporarily living;
- where the abuser (respondent) lives; or
- where an incident of abuse took place (where the “cause of action arose”).1
Note: There are certain situations in which you can file in any county within a 100-mile radius of the county seat of the county in which you live (or where you are temporarily living). This applies only if you (the petitioner) are any of the following:
- a victim advocate;
- an employee of the county court system;
- a legal professional practicing law;
- a current or former law enforcement officer;
- the spouse of a person listed above in numbers 1 - 4;
- a person who is/was in a dating relationship with or has a child in common with a person listed above in numbers 1 - 4;
- an immediate family member of a person listed above in numbers 1 - 4; or
- a household member of a person listed above in numbers 1 - 4.1
1 Wis. Stat. § 801.50(5s)
If the abuser lives in a different state, can I still get an order against him/her?
When you and the abuser live in different states, the judge may not have “personal jurisdiction” (power) over an out-of-state abuser. This means that the court may not be able to grant an order against him/her.
There are a few ways that a court can have personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state abuser:
- The abuser has a substantial connection to your state. Perhaps the abuser regularly travels to your state to visit you, for business, to see extended family, or the abuser lived in your state and recently fled.
- One of the acts of abuse “happened” in your state. Perhaps the abuser sends you threatening texts or harassing phone calls from another state but you read the messages or answer the calls while you are in your state. The judge could decide that the abuse “happened” to you while you were in your state. It may also be possible that the abuser was in your state when s/he abused you s/he but has since left the state.
- If you file your petition and the abuser gets served with the court petition while s/he is in your state, this is another way for the court to get jurisdiction.
However, even if none of the above apply to your situation, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t get an order. If you file, you may be granted an order on consent or the judge may find other circumstances that allow the order to be granted.
You can read more about personal jurisdiction in our Court System Basics - Personal Jurisdiction section.
Note: If the judge in your state refuses to issue an order, you can file for an order in the courthouse in the state where the abuser lives. However, remember that you will likely need to file the petition in person and attend various court dates, which could be difficult if the abuser’s state is far away.