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Legal Information: Wisconsin

Restraining Orders

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Laws current as of December 14, 2023

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)