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West Palm Beach Child Abuse Lawyer

Florida Family Law Attorney

In Florida, child abuse is a serious crime, and victims of child abuse may suffer lifelong physical and emotional consequences. If you or a loved one have been abused, it is important that you contact an experienced West Palm Beach child abuse lawyer who can defend your rights.

Child Abuse

In Florida, a person commits child abuse when he or she:

  • Intentionally inflicts physical or mental injury on a child;
  • Intentionally commits an act that could reasonably be expected to result in physical or mental injury to a child; or
  • Actively encourages another to commit a physical or mental injury on a child.

A mental injury is any injury to the intellectual capacity of a child that impairs his or her ability to function normally. The expected behavior and performance of a child is usually determined by expert testimony.

Aggravated Child Abuse

An act of violence against a child is considered aggravated child abuse when the perpetrator:

  • Commits aggravated battery on a child;
  • Willfully tortures, cages, or wrongfully punishes a child; or
  • Causes great bodily harm, permanent disability, or disfigurement, after knowingly abusing a child.

Neglect

A person neglects a child when he or she is a caregiver to a child and:

  • Fails to ensure the child’s physical and mental health by providing access to food, clothing, shelter, and medicine; or
  • Fails to make a reasonable effort to protect the child from abuse or neglect at the hands of another person.

Abusive conduct does not have to be repeated in order to constitute neglect.

Penalties

If the abuse does not result in bodily harm, the crime will be charged as a third degree felony, which is punishable by a five-year prison sentence and the mandatory payment of a $5,000 fine. However, if bodily injury does occur, the offender will be charged with aggravated child abuse, which is a first degree felony and is punishable by up to 30 years in prison and the payment of a $10,000 fine. A person who neglects a child, but who causes no bodily harm commits a third degree felony. Neglect of a child that causes bodily harm or disability, however, is a second degree felony, and carries a potential prison sentence of 15 years and the payment of a $10,000 fine.

Mandatory Reporting

Members of some professions are required by law to report to the Department of Children and Family Services if they know of or have reasonable cause to suspect neglect or abuse of a child. This includes:

  • Medical professionals;
  • Spiritual practitioners;
  • Teachers;
  • Social workers;
  • Law enforcement officers; and
  • Judges.

Members of these professions are required to make a report even if the suspected abuser is not a caregiver or parent of the child. Mandatory reporting duties also extend to instances of suspected sexual abuse, or when the offender is a juvenile.

A court can charge anyone over the age of 18 years, who lives in the same house as a child who is a victim of child abuse, and who knowingly fails to report the abuse with a third degree felony. However, exceptions will be made if the court finds that the person is a victim of domestic violence or there are other mitigating factors.

Failing to report, prohibiting another person from making a report, or making a false report of child abuse, is a third degree felony.

Religious Belief or Child Abuse?

In the United States, parental rights are considered to be fundamental. How children are brought into the world and how they are raised are generally up to the parents to decide, except where harm or the threat of harm may force the court to evaluate the parents’ decisions regarding the child. Though parental rights are fundamental, that does not mean that they are absolute. The best interest of the child is the most fundamental notion when it comes to family law, and where the court finds that the child’s best interests are not being met, then government intervention may take place. If you are unsure whether your religious practices may take away your parental rights, it is important to speak with an experienced family law attorney.

The Traditional and Non-Traditional Forms of Child Abuse and Neglect

Child abuse and neglect can occur in a variety of different ways. In many situations, when child abuse and neglect are imagined, these images that appear are usually the more traditional types of child abuse: the physical harm that comes from violence or neglect. It is a parent’s utmost obligation and duty to ensure that his/her child receive care, safety and protection, and where this is not provided to the child, abuse and neglect may be found. Sometimes, however, abuse may come in other forms that are not considered to be the traditional forms of physical child abuse and neglect. Sometimes how a parent chooses to raise a child can lead to child abuse.

Religion Tenets and a Child’s Wellbeing

The right to raise a child within a certain religion is the right of a parent. Most of the time, the choice of religion will not affect the child’s well-being. However, there are certain denominations and sects in which society may permit the practice of these religions as a form of freedom of association and speech, but the court might step in where the practices negatively affect the children. In a few, non-traditional religions that are acknowledged in the United States, there are determinations that it is against the fundamentals of the religion to vaccinate a child.

Florida’s Vaccination Policy and Religious Exemption Right

In Florida, the law acknowledges the right of the parent to decide to not vaccinate a child due to religious views, but the parent must fill out an extensive exemption form. Not vaccinating one’s child could lead to a serious injury against the child’s health, exposure to an infectious disease that could be fatal, and finally, the possibility of infecting other children.

Faith Healing and the Court’s Right to Intervene

Faith healing in many states is permitted when it comes to children. In Florida, a parent is not found to be per se a negligent parent because the parent legitimately believes the tenets of his or her religious organization that prohibits a member of that religion for undergoing a specific medical treatment. Though Florida acknowledges the rights of a person to practice his or her religion and make medical decisions for his or her own child, the exception is not absolute. The court may require, through court order, that a child receive medical services or treatment when the health of the child requires it. If a parent fails to provide the medical services or treatment, especially when a court order has required that the child receive the services or treatment, then any harm, injury, or death will be the responsibility of the parent. A parent whose child suffers or dies as a result of not receiving treatment due to a religious belief may be liable for criminal charges relating to child abuse, neglect, and manslaughter.

Contact An Experienced West Palm Beach Child Abuse Lawyer

If you or your child have been the victim of abuse, having the advice of an attorney with family law experience is vital. Please contact West Palm Beach family law attorney William Wallshein for a free consultation.

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