Child Abuse and Neglect

Child Abuse and Neglect

The physical and mental abuse or neglect of a child or children is taken very seriously by the New York courts in considering custody awards and visitation rights. Family law and divorce attorney Ingrid Gherman has experience working with cases in which these problems were a factor. She has both the understanding and the sensitivity to assist clients in matrimonial case involving these distressing and problematic issues. If you need Ingrid’s legal help or advice, call her law office at (212) 941-0767 or fill out the on-line form.


An "abused child" is a child whose parent inflicts serious physical injury or substantial risk of such injury, or commits an act of sex abuse against the child. A parent can also be guilty of child abuse by allowing another person to inflict or risk serious injuries upon that child.

Children raised in a violent home environment experience fear, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem. They learn to use physical violence as an outlet for anger and are more likely to use violence to solve problems as adults. Domestic violence often escalates and intensifies after the parents’ separation and divorce.

Indications that a child was physically abused include:

  • Frequent bruises, cuts and/or burns, when the child does not adequately explain the cause
  • The child is destructive, aggressive or disruptive, or is passive and withdrawn
  • The child is afraid of going home or shows fear of his/her parent(s)

Indications that a child was sexually abused include:

  • The child is diagnosed with sexually transmitted diseases
  • Injuries to the child’s genital area
  • The child engages in sexually suggestive or promiscuous behavior or verbalization
  • The child expresses age-inappropriate knowledge of sexual relations
  • The child inflicts sexual victimization of other children.

A child is considered maltreated when a parent or someone legally responsible for the child’s care does not provide the child with food, clothing, shelter, education or medical care, or adequate supervision for the child. Also, if a parent engages in excessive use of drugs or alcohol which interferes with the ability to adequately supervise the child.

  • Indications of child maltreatment include:
  • The child is obviously malnourished, listless or fatigued;
  • The child steals or begs for food
  • The child lacks personal care and hygiene, or wears torn or dirty clothes
  • Untreated dental care or medical attention
  • Frequent absence from or tardiness to school
  • The child is left without supervision.

The NY Family Court Act establishes specific procedures to help protect children from injury or mistreatment and to help safeguard children’s physical, mental and emotional well being. Under the NY Family Court Act, a parent of a child under the age of 18 is guilty of neglect if he/she unreasonably inflicts, or allows to be inflicted, harm or substantial risk of harm to the child, including excessive corporal punishment.

Corporal punishment of children

The NY Penal Law was not intended to permit the cruel beating of children. It states that a parent is allowed to use physical force on a child, to the extent that he/she reasonably believes it necessary to maintain discipline or to promote the child’s welfare. However, a parent is not privileged to use punishment that is brutal or beastly, and it should not be extended beyond the child's power of endurance.

In assessing what is reasonable corporal punishment, the courts in NY are guided by the principle that force applied primarily for purposes of the child’s proper training or education, or for the preservation of discipline is reasonable. Corporal punishment inflicted upon a child for the gratification of the parents’ passion or rage is considered to be excessive punishment. Cultural diversity and the family’s ethnic background can be considered as variables in determining what is, and what is not, reasonable corporal punishment.

Moderate means of punishment are considered to be reasonable and the NY courts determine whether corporal punishment is reasonable and not excessive, by considering the following factors:

  • The parent's behavior and the surrounding circumstances of the corporal punishment;
  • The age of the child; and
  • The means of punishment, which is a critical factor.