Wisconsin’s Harassment Restraining Order Explained

When an ex or other person has intentionally hurt you, caused you physical injury and pain, or has damaged your property, there is hardly a question that court involvement is appropriate, and often necessary. But what if that person is not an ex or a significant other? Or has not actually touched you? Are there any legal protections are available from the court in those instances? The short answer is yes.

In Wisconsin, this type of restraining order to file is called a harassment restraining order. Harassment restraining orders are one of the types of restraining orders available to individuals in Wisconsin. In addition, there are restraining orders for domestic abuse and child abuse.

Individuals are often hesitant to file harassment restraining orders, because the threshold is seemingly unclear. Take a situation where a person continually calls you simply to bother you; when is the threshold met? The legal basis for a harassment injunction in Wisconsin is a pattern of harassing conduct with no legitimate purpose.  What does this mean exactly?  For example, if a person is calling repeatedly or is attempting to harass or intimidate you and doing so serves no legitimate reason, a harassment restraining order may be granted by the court. The individual who files the harassment restraining order must specify (in a petition to the court) each kind of harassing behavior that the offending person has done.

Aside from the above listed conduct, other conduct that constitutes harassment is: (1) striking, showing, kicking, or otherwise subjective another person to physical contact or attempting or threatening to do the same, (2) engaging in an act that would constitute abuse, (3) sexual assault, or (4) stalking. Only one of the five types of conduct must be met to file a harassment restraining order.

The process to obtain a harassment restraining order is typically two-fold: first, the individual will file a petition seeking a temporary restraining order. If the individual filing the restraining order has no money (or is “indigent”), he or she may ask the court to be excused for paying any filing fees. If the individual filing is not indigent, he or she still may ask the court in the initial petition to the court to order the offending person to pay the court and legal fees. Usually you will talk to a court commissioner about your petition.  The court commissioner can either grant you a temporary restraining order, which takes effect immediately, or can simply schedule your petition for a hearing.  Either way, you move on to step two, where the court issues a date for an injunction hearing.   The defending party must then be served notice with this date, usually by the sheriff’s department.

At the hearing, you must testify about your allegations.  You may call other witnesses as well.  Your accuser has the right to respond by testifying or calling witnesses as well.  If the court finds that there are grounds for a permanent restraining order, the standard relief awarded by the court is that the offending person be prohibited from engaging in the specific conduct that constituted harassment, including being prohibited from contacting, or even coming near, the petitioner.

Please note, Wisconsin harassment laws are intended to protect individuals who are being harassed by people outside of their home. If you are experiencing abuse within your home from a spouse or otherwise, the more appropriate order is domestic abuse restraining order. Domestic restraining orders, unlike harassment restraining orders, may carry the punishment of removing the offending person from the home.

For more information about how to obtain restraining orders, please see our website.