Despite what popular opinion may dictate, in the vast majority of states, it is lawful to use physical punishment to discipline a child. One of the most fundamental rights a person has is to raise their children as they seem fit. This right, however, is not without limitations.
Florida law may allow spanking and, in fact, specifically states that “[c]orporal discipline of a child by a parent or legal custodian for disciplinary purposes does not in itself constitute abuse when it does not result in harm to the child.” Although many of the terms utilized in that statement are defined in the statute itself, there is still much debate about what constitutes “harm,” and “disciplinary purposes.” With ambiguity in these terms, understanding the legal difference between abuse and discipline can be difficult to prove.
What is “Harm?”
Section 30(a) of Chapter 39.01 of the 2014 Florida Statutes (“Proceedings Relating to Children”) non-inclusively defines what constitutes harm. It can be a physical, mental, or emotional injury—the latter two of which can be difficult to prove in a court of law. A child can be “fine” physically, but face severe emotional consequences during the punishment or later in life.
According to the statute, corporal discipline “may be considered excessive or abusive” when it results in a list of enumerated (or “similar”) injuries to the child. There is also the consideration of what constitutes “discipline” and a question of whether this differs from “punishment.” Regardless, the determination of whether a child has been abused depends significantly on the harm that is inflicted, and not as much on the underlying alleged reasons for the harm.
Types of Abuse
While harm can be defined as physical, mental, or emotional trauma, the same goes with the types of abuse a person may suffer. There is physical abuse in the sense of hitting and overt actions, but there is also abuse in the sense of omission or failure to act.
Failing to care for a child properly can be deemed abuse and neglect. Failing to maintain a sanitary home, not providing meals to children, and denying children schooling or love and affection may all be forms of abuse recognized under Florida law. Any caregiver of a child, not just the biological parents, may be charged with child abuse or neglect; these offenses may include failure to provide “care, supervision, and services necessary to maintain the child’s physical and mental health, including, but not limited to, food, nutrition, clothing, shelter, supervision, medicine, and medical services . . . .”
Orlando Child Abuse Attorneys
Allegations of child abuse or neglect are taken extremely seriously under Florida law. If ultimately convicted of one of these crimes, you may face repercussions including, but not limited to, loss of custody of your children, monetary fines, misdemeanor or felony charges.
Allegations are merely that—allegations. Allegations and being charged with a crime do not mean you have been convicted of the crime; that is, you do not have it on your criminal record yet. If you or anyone you know has been suspected of child abuse or neglect, it is critical that you seek legal counsel as soon as possible.
Our knowledgeable child abuse and neglect defense attorneys at Moses & Rooth have worked on both sides of the criminal justice system and know how to masterfully approach your case to ensure the best outcome possible. Contact us at our Orlando or New Smyrna Beach offices to take the steps necessary to try to preserve your criminal records and minimize the damage to your future.