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Child Abuse

Child Abuse Definitions under Florida Law

"Abuse” means any threatening act or willful act that results in any mental, physical, or sexual injury or harm that is likely to cause or actually causes the child’s emotional, mental or physical health to be significantly impaired. Abuse of a child includes acts or omissions.

"Harm" to a child's health or welfare can happen when a person inflicts or allows to be inflicted on the child any physical, mental, or emotional injury. The occurrence of harm to a child is determined by evaluating the age of the child, prior history of injuries to the child, location of the injury, how many times injury has occurred to the child and the type of injury caused. These injuries can include:

  • Sprains, dislocations, or cartilage damage.
  • Bone or skill fractures.
  • Brain or spinal cord damage.
  • Injury to internal organs
  • Asphyxiation, suffocation, or downing.
  • Burns or scalding.
  • Cuts, lacerations, punctures, or bites.
  • Permanent or temporary disfigurement.
  • Permanent or temporary loss or impairment of a body part or function.

“Physical injury” means any temporary disfigurement, permanent disfigurement, death, or impairment of any bodily part.

"Mental injury” means an injury to the psychological or intellectual capacity of a person under 18 years of age as evidenced by a substantial and discernible impairment in the ability to function within the normal range of behavior and performance.

In child abuse cases in which the defendant's status as a parent is at issue, the court may give the following instruction which defines the term "legal custody." Under Florida Statute § 39.01(35), the term “legal custody” means a legal status created by a court which gives a custodian of the person or guardian, whether an agency or an individual, the right to have physical custody of the child. This also includes the right and duty to protect, nurture, guide, and discipline the child and to provide the person under the age of 18 with food, shelter, education and ordinary medical, dental, psychiatric, and psychological care.

Potential Penalties for Child Abuse in Florida Law

Under Florida Statute § 827.03, it is unlawful to commit abuse against a child. "Child abuse" is defined as the intentional inflection of physical or mental injuries on a child that would reasonably be expected to result in injury. This also includes the active encouragement of any person to commit an act that results or could reasonably be expected to result in the child's physical or mental injury.

If the act of child abuse did not cause serious bodily harm, permanent disability or disfigurement, the accused person can be convicted of a 3rd degree felony. This felony offense can be punished with up to 15 years in prison and $10,000 in fines. Additionally, a person who has been convicted of two or more previous felonies of aggravated child abuse may be considered a habitual violent offender and could potentially face a minimum 15 year prison sentence.


Plotnick Law, P.A. serves clients throughout the Tampa Bay Area including but not limited to; St. Petersburg, Clearwater, & Bradenton



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