Making the decision to end an unhealthy relationship is always difficult. Whether you are navigating a divorce, legal separation or a break-up, transitions out of a troubled relationship are periods of high stress, high emotion and risk. If your relationship was one with a power and control disparity, if there was domestic abuse in your relationship, or if your former partner is engaging in troubling behaviors, there are several restraining order options available under the law in Wisconsin, to you help you to protect yourself.
A restraining order, otherwise known as an injunction, is a court order specifying the limits and parameters of contact you may have, with another person. Although most restraining orders call for no contact between the parties, if you and the subject of the restraining order have children together, it is possible to ask the court to make an exception to a “no contact” rule, with respect to communications you may have with one another, about your children. Otherwise, “no contact” usually means no contact what so ever, including phone calls, text messages, online contact, and contact facilitated via a third party. A restraining order will instruct the respondent to avoid certain places, such as your home and workplace, and there will be specific prohibited behaviors listed in the Order. Depending on the nature of the egregious conduct, the Court could order the respondent to surrender firearms to the Sheriff’s office or to a third party named by the Court.
Generally, if the victim is an adult, restraining orders can be imposed for any length of time up to 4 years. If the victim is a child, the term could be up to 2 years. In cases involving significant harm, where the Court believes that the respondent poses a substantial risk of re-offending, the Court may grant a 10-year injunction for an adult victim and a 5-year restraining order for a child victim. Restraining orders are renewable at the election of the petitioner, at the expiration of the injunction period.
At the time a petition for a restraining order is filed, a court official will determine whether the conduct alleged in the petition meets the statutory definitions associated with the requested injunction type. If it does, a temporary restraining order will be granted immediately. A hearing will be scheduled, to take place within 14 days of the petition filing. At the hearing, evidence and witness testimony is presented, and the Judge will decide whether the permanent injunction should be granted. Once the restraining order is in place, a violation of any of the parameters within the Order could result in the arrest of the person who violated its terms, and such a violation may result in criminal charges. In this way, a restraining order can be an added layer of protection for you, if you are concerned that a former romantic partner is engaging in harassing or abusive behavior.
In Wisconsin, there are several forms of restraining order. The first is a harassment restraining order. “Harassment,” by statute, is defined as subjecting someone to physical contact, such as kicking, shoving or striking, and the definition also includes threats of bodily harm. In this way, if someone has physically harmed you, or if someone has threatened to physically harm you, you could have the basis for a harassment restraining order against that person. Engaging in a course of conduct or a series of acts which harass or intimidate, or which serve no legitimate purpose, would also be the basis for a harassment injunction. Things like repeated unwanted contact, threats or similar behaviors could fall under this definition and present the basis for a harassment restraining order.
Domestic abuse restraining orders are another option, if there was violence in your relationship. Filing a petition for this form of restraining order is possible when an adult family member, household member or caregiver engaged in certain violent conduct against a spouse, former spouse, person with whom they have had a dating relationship, or a person with whom the perpetrator has a child in common. The conduct in question must consist of intentional infliction of physical pain, injury or illness, impairment of a physical condition, or threats of such. Domestic abuse also includes conduct such as sexual assault, stalking and damage to property. Typically, conduct qualifying under this statute will be more severe than conduct falling under the “harassment” definition. If a domestic violence restraining order is granted, the Court may also order the abuser to refrain from threatening harm or from harming a household pet, and when necessary, the Court may also order the transfer of a telephone number from an abuser’s account to an account held by the petitioner. Domestic violence restraining orders require the surrender of the respondent’s firearms.
A parent, stepparent or legal guardian may petition the Court for a child abuse restraining order against an individual alleged to have harmed or threatened to harm a child. “Child” is defined as a person under 18 years of age. If restraining order is granted and the child later turns 18, the injunction expires.
Navigating a restraining order action can be tricky, as it is often necessary to present oral argument, witness testimony and evidence of the alleged conduct, at the contested injunction hearing. Our office handles these cases with regularity. We would be happy to discuss the unique facts of your case, with you. We offer free half-hour telephone consultations on this topic and on all other aspects of family law, in Wisconsin.