Child Abuse/Abandonment

A person who is under 18 years of age is legally considered a child in Utah. Child abandonment under Utah Code § 76-5-109(4) or inflicting a personal injury upon a child constitutes child abuse. A parent or legal guardian may be accused of child abandonment if he or she intentionally ceases to maintain physical custody of the child, intentionally fails to make reasonable arrangements for the safety, care, and physical custody of the child, and:

  • intentionally fails to provide the child with food, shelter, or clothing;
  • manifests an intent to permanently not resume physical custody of the child; or
  • for a period of at least 30 days intentionally fails to resume physical custody of the child and fails to manifest a genuine intent to resume physical custody of the child.

Child abandonment does not include safe relinquishment of a newborn child or giving legal consent to a court order for termination of parental rights in a legal adoption proceeding or in a case where a petition for the termination of parental rights, or the termination of a guardianship, has been filed.

All child neglect accusations are aggressively prosecuted in Utah. Certain crimes constitute felony offenses, and alleged offenders face very lengthy prison sentences as well as large fines if convicted.

Attorney for Child Abuse/Abandonment Arrests in Salt Lake City

If you think that you might be under investigation or you were already arrested for child abuse or abandonment in Utah, it is in your best interest to make sure that you have legal representation before making any kind of statement to authorities. Susanne Gustin Attorney at Law defends clients in communities all over Weber County and Salt Lake County.

Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyer Susanne Gustin has received Martindale-Hubble’s AV Preeminent Rating, the highest possible rating in both legal ability and ethical standard. Call (801) 243-2814 today to have our attorney review your case and help you understand all of your legal options during a free, confidential consultation.

Utah Child Abuse/Abandonment Information Center


Child Abuse/Abandonment Charges in Salt Lake County

Child abuse charges involve alleged offenders inflicting physical injuries or serious physical injuries upon children. A physical injury is defined under Utah Code § 76-5-109(e) as meaning “an injury to or condition of a child which impairs the physical condition of the child,” including:

  • a bruise or other contusion of the skin;
  • a minor laceration or abrasion;
  • failure to thrive or malnutrition; or
  • any other condition which imperils the child’s health or welfare and which is not a serious physical injury.

Utah Code § 76-5-109(f)(i) defines a serious physical injury as any physical injury or set of injuries that:

  • seriously impairs the child’s health;
  • involves physical torture;
  • causes serious emotional harm to the child; or
  • involves a substantial risk of death to the child.

Under Utah Code § 76-5-109(f)(ii), the phrase serious physical injury includes:

  • fracture of any bone or bones;
  • intracranial bleeding, swelling or contusion of the brain, whether caused by blows, shaking, or causing the child’s head to impact with an object or surface;
  • any burn, including burns inflicted by hot water, or those caused by placing a hot object upon the skin or body of the child;
  • any injury caused by use of a dangerous weapon as defined in Section 76-1-601;
  • any combination of two or more physical injuries inflicted by the same person, either at the same time or on different occasions;
  • any damage to internal organs of the body;
  • any conduct toward a child that results in severe emotional harm, severe developmental delay or intellectual disability, or severe impairment of the child’s ability to function;
  • any injury that creates a permanent disfigurement or protracted loss or impairment of the function of a bodily member, limb, or organ;
  • any impediment of the breathing or the circulation of blood by application of pressure to the neck, throat, or chest, or by the obstruction of the nose or mouth, that is likely to produce a loss of consciousness;
  • any conduct that results in starvation or failure to thrive or malnutrition that jeopardizes the child’s life; or
  • unconsciousness caused by the unlawful infliction of a brain injury or unlawfully causing any deprivation of oxygen to the brain.

Another critical element to the classification of child abuse or child abandonment criminal charges is the culpability, or legal responsibility, of the alleged offender. Utah Code § 76-2-103 provides the following definitions for culpability:

  • A person engages in conduct intentionally, or with intent or willfully with respect to the nature of his conduct or to a result of his conduct, when it is his conscious objective or desire to engage in the conduct or cause the result;
  • A person engages in conduct knowingly, or with knowledge, with respect to his conduct or to circumstances surrounding his conduct when he is aware of the nature of his conduct or the existing circumstances. A person acts knowingly, or with knowledge, with respect to a result of his conduct when he is aware that his conduct is reasonably certain to cause the result;
  • A person engages in conduct recklessly with respect to circumstances surrounding his conduct or the result of his conduct when he is aware of but consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist or the result will occur. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that its disregard constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all the circumstances as viewed from the alleged offender’s standpoint;
  • A person engages in conduct with criminal negligence or is criminally negligent with respect to circumstances surrounding his conduct or the result of his conduct when he ought to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist or the result will occur. The risk must be of a nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise in all the circumstances as viewed from the alleged offender’s standpoint.

Child Abuse/Abandonment Penalties in Utah

Utah Code § 76-5-109(3), any person who inflicts upon a child physical injury or, having the care or custody of such child, causes or permits another to inflict physical injury upon a child can face the following charges, depending on his or her degree of culpability:

  • if done with criminal negligence, class C misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $750;
  • if done recklessly, class B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000; or
  • if done intentionally or knowingly, class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.

When any person inflicts serious physical injury upon a child or, having the care or custody of such child, causes or permits another to inflict serious physical injury upon a child, Utah Code § 76-5-109(2) establishes the following charges according to an alleged offender’s degree of culpability:

  • if done with criminal negligence, class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500;
  • if done recklessly, third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000; or
  • if done intentionally or knowingly, second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

Under Utah Code § 76-5-109(4), a person who commits child abandonment, or encourages or causes another to commit child abandonment, or an enterprise that encourages, commands, or causes another to commit child abandonment, will be charged with a second-degree felony if, as a result of the child abandonment:

  • the child suffers a serious physical injury; or
  • the person or enterprise receives, directly or indirectly, any benefit.

In all other cases, child abandonment is a third-degree felony.


Salt Lake City Child Abuse/Abandonment Defenses

Utah Code § 76-5-109(6) establishes that a parent or legal guardian will not be considered to have committed a child abuse or child abandonment offense if he or she provides a child with treatment by spiritual means alone through prayer, in lieu of medical treatment, in accordance with the tenets and practices of an established church or religious denomination of which the parent or legal guardian is a member or adherent. Similarly, Utah Code § 76-5-109(7) states that a parent or guardian of a child does not commit a violation by selecting a treatment option for the medical condition of the child, if the treatment option is one that a reasonable parent or guardian would believe to be in the best interest of the child.

Under Utah Code § 76-5-109(8), an individual also cannot be found guilty of child abuse or child abandonment if his or her conduct constitutes:

  • reasonable discipline or management of a child, including withholding privileges;
  • when the actor’s conduct is in defense of persons or property under certain circumstances;
  • when the actor’s conduct is reasonable and in fulfillment of his duties as a governmental officer or employee;
  • when the actor’s conduct is reasonable discipline of minors by parents, guardians, teachers, or other persons in loco parentis;
  • when the actor’s conduct is reasonable discipline of persons in custody under the laws of the state;
  • when the actor’s conduct is justified for any other reason under the laws of the state;
  • the use of reasonable and necessary physical restraint or force on a child in self-defense, in defense of others, to protect the child, or to remove a weapon in the possession of a child for any of the aforementioned reasons.

Child Abuse/Abandonment Resources in Utah

Preventing Child Maltreatment | Utah Department of Health | Utah.gov — The mission of the Utah Department of Health is “to protect the public’s health through preventing avoidable illness, injury, disability, and premature death; assuring access to affordable, quality health care; and promoting healthy lifestyles.” Visit the Violence & Injury Protection Program (VIPP) section of the Department of Health website to learn more about preventing child maltreatment. You can also find specific topical information for kids and teens relating to child fatalities, dating violence, and child maltreatment

Utah Department of Health

Cannon Health Building

288 North 1460 West

Salt Lake City, UT 84116

Prevention | Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) | Utah.gov — On this section of the DCFS website, you can learn more about parenting classes, evidence-based home visitation programs, and statewide community and school-based education presentations. You can also find a crisis nursery, access Protective Offender Action Sheets, and find additional information about the agency. The website also has information about One With Courage Utah, Prevent Child Abuse Utah, and other resources for families.

Division of Child and Family Services

195 N. 1950 W.

Salt Lake City, UT 84116

(801) 538-4171


Find a Child Abuse/Abandonment Defense Lawyer in Salt Lake City

Were you arrested or do you believe that you could be under investigation for a child abuse or child abandonment crime in Utah? Do not say anything to authorities until you have contacted Susanne Gustin Attorney at Law.

Susanne Gustin is an experienced criminal defense attorney in Salt Lake City who represents individuals in locations throughout Salt Lake County and Weber County. She can provide a complete evaluation of your case as soon as you call (801) 243-2814 or submit an online contact form to receive a free initial consultation.


This article was last updated by Jordan Anderson, on July 30th, 2018.