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The Line Between Discipline and Child Abuse


Discipline is a practice that is often used to correct a child’s behavior. A common conduct among parents, discipline typically resorts to punishment in response to disobedience. Though many consider discipline an integral part of character growth, some parents can take their punishments too far. When punishments towards children get excessive, it can cross the line from discipline to child abuse. To ensure the wellbeing of your child and family, it is important to be aware of the difference between discipline and abusive behavior.

What Is Considered Child Abuse?

Child abuse has varying laws depending on the state you live in. In Florida, child abuse can be classified into three categories:

  1. Intentional physical or mental injury inflicted onto a child
  2. Intentional actions that result in the physical or mental injury of a child
  3. Encouragement of actions that may result in the physical or mental injury of a child

As a result, child abuse can be committed both directly and indirectly. It does not matter if you were not the direct abuser inflicting injury, you can still be convicted of child abuse if you encourage abusive behavior. Furthermore, the scope of child abuse is not limited to only physical injuries, but mental and psychological injuries as well. Child abuse in Florida encompasses many types of damage to ensure that children are as protected as possible.

What Is “Crossing the Line?”

Lighter punishments such as spanking is not illegal in the state of Florida. As long as the punishment is ruled as “reasonable for discipline,” you will not face child abuse charges. However, once the spankings turn more violent and they start to cause bruises or welts, a judge may now consider that punishment as child abuse. However, discerning child abuse can be a subjective matter since there is no singular, explicit definition for what is considered abusive towards a child. The ruling is determined on a case by case basis, and it is typically based on the context. As a result, it is ultimately up to the judge to decide whether a punishment towards a child is considered child abuse or not. Generally however, injuries that cause trauma or long-term harm is considered child abuse.

Consequences of Child Abuse in Florida

If convicted of child abuse in Florida, you can face serious repercussions such as jail time. The length of a sentence will depend on the severity and extent of the abuse. For other child abuse cases that are considered less serious, you can face other consequences such as fines, probations, restraining orders, custody loss, or family therapy orders.

In Need of a Family Lawyer or Criminal Defense Lawyer?

Child abuse is a serious matter that is seldom taken lightly by the courts. If you have been accused of child abuse, you will need an extensively trained family attorney and Criminal Defense attorney if you are charged criminally, to represent you. Our Port St. Lucie family lawyers at Baginski, Brandt & Brandt are prepared to take your case. If you are interested in scheduling a free consultation with us today, please give us a call at 772-466-0707 to discuss further details.


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Port St. Lucie 8483 S. U.S. Highway One
Port St. Lucie, Florida 34952
Stuart By Appointment Only 100 SW Albany Ave., Suite 300k
Stuart, FL 34994
Fort Pierce By Appointment Only 311 S 2nd St., Suite 102b
Fort Pierce, FL 34950
Telephone: 772-466-0707 Fax: 772-223-9290 or 772-466-0907 Office Hours: 8:30 to 5:00pm M-F