Child Abuse Defenses

Created by FindLaw's team of attorney writers and editors.

Defending yourself against a child abuse charge can be difficult especially if it involves the testimony of a child. Combine that with the media's negative depiction of child abuse offenders and it may seem impossible to overcome the harsh realities of a child abuse allegation. While child abuse laws aim to protect children, the justice system is set up to vindicate those who are wrongfully accused.

Below are some of the more common child abuse defenses that a person may assert when facing child abuse allegations.

False Allegations

A common defense to child abuse charges is to say that the child abuse allegations are false. False accusations of child abuse are more common than most people think, especially in dysfunctional families or between parents who are involved in a difficult child custody battle. Although sometimes difficult to prove, the best strategy to defend false child abuse charges is to aggressively counter-attack allegations and show proof of the lie or similar wrongful conduct by the accuser.

Injury Due to Something Other Than Child Abuse

Most state child abuse laws don't punish accidents, unless the accident was a result of recklessness or gross carelessness. Examples of true accidents may include pushing your child on a bike and causing them to fall and scrape their knees or unknowingly slamming your toddler's hand in the door. When a child's injuries are a result of an accident, a person may raise this as a defense against child abuse charges but courts are split as to whether to prosecute parents who accidentally cause harm to a child when acting with negligence (such as leaving a sleeping baby in a car alone on a hot day).

Sometimes parents are falsely accused of child abuse based on non-accidental situations, such as when a child fights with another child and gets injured or when a child has a pre-existing medical condition that contributes to their own injuries. For example, one type of disease called "brittle bone disease" has been raised as a defense to show that one's injuries were the result of a disorder that causes a child's bones to break easily, and not a result of child abuse.

This line of child abuse defenses is essentially focused on the question of causation and whether the person accused of child abuse was responsible -- or legally culpable -- for the actions that caused harm to the child in question.

Parent's Right to Discipline

Parents are generally free to discipline their children in any manner they choose, so long as the discipline is reasonable and causes no bodily injury. The question of how a parent disciplines a child (such as through spanking or threat of spanking), however, is often the subject of many child abuse cases.

In certain circumstances, a parent, or one standing in "loco parentis "(such as a teacher), can raise the defense of "parental privilege" and claim that they had the right to reasonably discipline a child under their authority. However, if a child's injuries are more serious than minor bruising as a result of the discipline, the parental privilege may not apply.

Religious Beliefs

Even though it's hard to grasp the thought of a child dying from an easily treatable illness, parents may claim an exemption to child abuse for religious reasons when a child dies because of a parent's failure to seek medical care for their sick child. Although controversial, this religious exemption is a defense in all but a handful of states, and allows parents to escape charges of child abuse if they choose to pray for their sick children rather than take them to a doctor.

Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy

In rare cases, an individual accused of child abuse may raise the little-known defense called Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSBP). MSBP is used to describe incidents in which a child caregiver, usually the mother, either lies about or promotes illnesses in their children in an attempt to draw attention or sympathy to themselves. This defense usually requires proof of psychological or medical data, and is basically a type of insanity defense.

Learn More About Child Abuse Defenses: Talk to a Local Attorney

There may be several child abuse defenses available depending on the circumstances in your particular case. Whether you've been accused of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, now is the time to get legal help. Contact a skilled criminal defense attorney near you today and get help understanding your rights with respect to child abuse laws in your state.

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