Laws against neglecting or abandoning a child are intended to protect the safety and well-being of a child. Each state has its own child abuse laws, which usually include laws against child neglect and child abandonment. Florida statutes address the entire range of these related offenses, as explained in detail below.
Child Abuse, Neglect, and Abandonment Under Florida Law
It is important to first understand how Florida differentiates among these three criminal charges.
- Child Abuse: Occurs when a person intentionally inflicts mental or physical injury upon a child; performs an intentional act that could reasonably be expected to mentally or physically injure a child; or actively encourages another person to commit an act that results in (or could reasonably result in) mental or physical injury to a child.
- Child Neglect: Occurs when a caregiver fails to provide a child with the supervision, services, and care necessary to maintain the child's mental and physical health, or when a caregiver fails to make a reasonable effort to protect a child from exploitation, abuse, or neglect by another person.
- Abandonment: The official charge for abandoning a child in Florida is "unlawful desertion of a child," which occurs when a caregiver deserts a child under circumstances in which he or she knew (or should have known) that the desertion exposes the child to unreasonable risk of harm.
Overview of Florida Child Neglect and Child Abandonment Laws
Below you will find key provisions of Florida's laws relating to child neglect and child abandonment.
- It's a felony of the second degree to willfully, or by culpable negligence, neglect a child when it causes great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement.
- It's a felony of the third degree to willfully, or by culpable negligence, neglect a child without causing great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement.
- It's a felony of the third degree to desert a child under circumstances in which the caregiver knew or should have known that the desertion exposes the child to unreasonable risk of harm.
Conviction of a felony can result in imprisonment and/or fines:
- Felony of the Second Degree: Term of imprisonment not exceeding 15 years and/or up to $10,000 in fines.
- Felony of the Third Degree: A term of imprisonment not exceeding 5 years, and/or up to $5,000 in fines.
Please note that there may be enhanced penalties or mandatory minimum prison terms for certain offenders.
- Anyone who knows, or has reasonable cause to suspect that a child is abandoned, neglected, or abused by a parent, legal custodian, or caregiver is a mandatory reporter.
- Anyone legally obligated to report known abuse must also identify him or herself when reporting. Examples of those professionally mandated to report abuse include physicians, teachers, law enforcement officers, and social workers.
Charges for Failure to Report
Failure to report child abandonment, neglect, or abuse to the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) is a third degree felony.
Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.
Florida Child Neglect and Child Abandonment Law: Related Resources
The Department of Children and Families provides a helpful Frequently Asked Questions section on its website to find out more about Florida child neglect and child abandonment law. For additional general information and articles related to this topic, you can visit FindLaw's section on Crimes Against Children.
Get Legal Help with Your Child Neglect / Abandonment Case
Child neglect and child abandonment are serious crimes that can have lasting effects on their victims – and may result in tough penalties for those convicted of committing it. If you or someone close to you has been charged with child neglect or child abandonment, you may want to consult with a Florida criminal defense attorney in your area.