Child Abuse

Welcome to the Child Abuse department of Divorce and FamilyLawService Center. Here we will discuss different types of child abuse and neglect. We will also talk about about which state agency handles reports of child abuse. Lastly, we will discuss false accusations, common defenses of those accused, and consequences for those who are found guilty of child abuse.

What is child abuse?

Child abuse encompasses both action and inaction of caregivers towards a child. It is generally defined as any action physically, emotionally, or sexually that puts the child in harms way or is an imminent threat to their safety and well being. It also encompasses inaction or neglect in meeting a child’s basic health, social, and emotional needs.

In some states a child or minor is defined as someone under the age of 16, in other states the definition is under the age of 18. Conversely, an adult would be defined as someone over the age of 16 or 18 depending on the state.

When is discipline considered child abuse?

Discipline is necessary in child rearing but there are limits. A good practice is to remain firm but fair. The following contains examples of discipline gone too far.

Physical Abuse

While spanking a child is legal in the United States, 11 countries in Europe consider it illegal. In general, physical abuse occurs when marks are left on the child. Throwing a child against a wall or to the floor, choking a child, burning a child, shaking a child vigorously, using a belt or some other implement to hit a child, and pinching hard enough to leave a mark could all be examples of physical child abuse.

Emotional Abuse

Sometimes the tongue can sting as hard as the whip. The child’s well being is the responsibility of the adult caretaker. There are developmental stages of a child within which the child can only reach certain expectations within their capacity. Putting demands on a child that are not within that capacity may result in long term developmental issues. Repeatedly taunting, belittling, rejecting, or criticizing can be emotional abuse. A child hearing that their birth was a mistake or that the caretaker wishes the child had never been born could also be classified as emotional child abuse. Ignoring, corrupting, terrorizing, or isolating a child effects their self worth and can also fall under the category of emotional child abuse.


Providing basic food, shelter, and appropriate clothing for a child is the child’s right and the adult caretaker’s responsibility. If these basic needs are not met, the child is neglected. Inaction in some areas of child rearing may hurt the overall well being of the child and may be defined as child abuse. Leaving a child unattended, locked in a room, or being inattentive to a child may be classified as child abuse. Regular school attendance and appropriate medical attention is also a child’s right and may fall on the wrong side of the law if the caretaker cannot provide this to the child.

Non Disciplinary Child Abuse

Sexual Abuse

Innocence is a child’s right. Innocence is what makes a child special, fragile and different than adults. Their lives and our society as a whole benefit by preserving that innocence. Touching a child’s genitals and private areas in a sexual way is against the law. Taking pictures of a child without their clothes on or in sexually suggestive positions is against the law. Showing a child sexually suggestive photographs or magazines is against the law. Registering as a sexual offender carries a large stigma in our society for good reason.

Child Abuse Reporting Agency

Every state has Child Protective Services (CPS) where abuse is to be reported by officials and in numerous states can be reported anonymously. Some states have laws stating child abuse must be reported if suspected by certain officials like teachers, doctors, and officers. Some states have laws stating anyone who suspects child abuse must report it. Anonymous reporting is allowed in most states.

False Accusations of Child Abuse

False accusations of child abuse occur more often than one might think. Defense of child accusations might become necessary. Common defenses heard in child abuse cases are the injuries were caused by accident, the child injured themselves in a fight with another child, pre-existing medical condition (for instance brittle bone disease) exists, parental privilege, or rarely psychological conditions present in parent (for instance Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy).

Consequences if Found Guilty of Child Abuse

If an adult caregiver is found guilty, largely depending on prior record and the level abuse, penalties range from gross misdemeanor with no jail time to the most serious cases resulting in felony conviction carrying life sentences. Other ramifications may include loss of parental rights, lifetime registration as a sex offender, severely damaged reputation, and loss of contact with the child.