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The Facts On Child Neglect And Child Abandonment Laws In Florida

Florida law protects children from neglect and abandonment by their parents and caregivers. Child neglect and child abandonment are serious crimes in Florida, and they typically carry significant penalties. Below is what you need to know about child neglect and child abandonment laws in Florida.

Basics

Florida law divides child neglect and child abandonment laws into three broad categories

  • child abuse,
  • child neglect, and
  • abandonment

All three of these laws are felonies, and they may each have a more severe punishment if an enhanced penalty is handed down by the courts.

In Florida, child neglect and child abandonment laws typically apply to caregivers, which the statute defines as a wide array of adults who are in some way responsible for the child’s safety. Among the relationships defined as caregivers in Florida law are parents, legal custodians, permanent guardians, and adult household members.

Child Neglect

Florida statute establishes child neglect to be when a caregiver fails to provide the tools and situations necessary to maintain that child’s mental and physical health. Included in these tools and situations are

  • food,
  • nutrition,
  • clothing,
  • shelter,
  • supervision,
  • medicine, and
  • medical services

that a prudent person would consider essential for a child.

Child neglect also includes situations wherein the caregiver does not make a reasonable effort at protecting a child from abuse, exploitation, or neglect by some other person.

Florida law establishes that child neglect may be shown by proving a single act, a single omission, or a pattern of acts and/or omissions if those acts or omissions could or do result in serious physical or mental injury or a substantial risk of death to the child.

Abandonment

In Florida the crime of child abandonment is the unlawful desertion of a child. Per statute, a crime is committed when a caregiver leaves a child with the intent not to return in a situation where that caregiver knows our should know that an unreasonable risk of harm exists.

However, Florida has established an exception to child abandonment if the parent surrenders a newborn infant a week old or younger at a fire station or EMS station. In that case, the parent is assumed to have surrendered his or her rights as a parent at that time as well.

Penalties

Florida law classifies child neglect as a second degree felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. However, certain circumstances increase the crime of child neglect to a third degree felony. If the defendant is shown to have neglected the child willfully or by culpable negligence, the conviction is punishable by 15 years in prison and a fine of $10,000.

Child neglect also becomes a third degree felony if the prosecution can show that the child experienced

  • great bodily harm,
  • permanent disability, or
  • permanent disfigurement.

The crime of child abandonment (child desertion) is a third degree felony as well.

Expert Testimony

Florida law has established standards for expert testimony in prosecutions for child abuse in general. Per the statute, a doctor may not testify as an expert witness unless he or she is licensed or certified as an expert witness by the state of Florida. Experts testifying on mental abuse must also be licenses physicians as well as being certified by the state as expert witnesses or have had a residency in psychiatry.

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