Tennessee Child Abuse Laws

All states, including Tennessee, treat child abuse and neglect as a serious crime, often punishable by prison time. Tennessee distinguishes between child abuse, child neglect, and child endangerment, as noted below:

  • Child abuse: knowingly treating a child in a manner as to inflict injury.
  • Child neglect: knowingly abusing or neglecting a child in a way negatively affects the child's health and welfare.
  • Child endangerment: knowingly exposing or failing to protect a child who is 8 years old or younger from abuse or neglect resulting in physical injury. Child endangerment only applies to parents or custodians of the child.

The charges for committing child abuse, neglect, or endangerment will vary based on the circumstances. For example, abusing a child that's eight or younger is charged differently than abusing one who's older.

What Is a Mandatory Reporter?

Most states have "mandatory reporting requirements" which require certain people to report suspected child abuse or neglect. Mandatory reporters are usually physicians, clergy, teachers, day care workers, social workers, and others with regular access to a child. However, in Tennessee, everyone is a mandatory reporter, which means any person who has reasonable cause to believe that a child is being abused or neglected is required to report it to the Tennessee Department of Children's Services or to local law enforcement. Failure to report suspected child abuse or neglect is a Class A misdemeanor.

Tennessee Child Abuse Laws at a Glance

Although reading the actual language of a statute is an important step to legal research, sometimes you just want a quick and easy answer, which is usually not found by reading legally dense statutes. Reading an overview of the law, however, can not only provide a quick answer, but also help you get a better understanding of the statute. The following chart summarizes the main provisions of Tennessee child abuse laws and provides links to relevant statutes.

Statute(s)

Tennessee Code, Title 39, Chapter 15, Part 4:

Aggravated Child Abuse, Neglect, or Endangerment

It's a violation of Section 39-15-402 if a person commits child abuse, neglect, or endangerment and:

  • It results in serious bodily injury to the child;
  • A deadly weapon, dangerous instrumentality, or controlled substance is used to abuse, neglect, or endanger the child;
  • The abuse, neglect, or endangerment was especially cruel, heinous, or involved torture; or
  • The abuse, neglect, or endangerment results from knowingly exposing the child to the manufacturing of methamphetamine.
Charges

Violation of Section 39-14-401 can be a Class A misdemeanor, Class E felony, or a Class D felony depending on the circumstances.

Violation of Section 39-14-402 is generally a Class B felony but it's a Class A felony if the victim is:

  • 8 years old or younger;
  • Mentally defective;
  • Mentally incapacitated; or
  • Physically disabled.
Penalties

The authorized terms of fines and imprisonment for felonies and misdemeanors are:

  • Class A felony: 15 to 60 years and a maximum fine of $50,000.
  • Class B felony: 8 to 30 years and a maximum fine of $25,000.
  • Class D felony: 2 to 12 years and a maximum fine of $5,000.
  • Class E felony: 1 to 6 years and a maximum fine of $3,000.
  • Class A misdemeanor: up to 11 months, 29 days and/or a maximum fine of $2,500.
Related Statute(s)

Tennessee Code, Title 37, Chapter 1, Part 4, Section 37-1-401, et seq. (Mandatory Child Abuse Reports)

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.

Tennessee Child Abuse Laws: Related Resources

Arrested for Violating Tennessee Child Abuse Laws? Get Legal Help

There can sometimes be a fine line between child abuse and child discipline, and a person looking at the situation from the outside may not be able to tell which one is occurring. If you've been arrested for violating Tennessee child abuse laws, it's a good idea to contact a local criminal defense attorney who can help you defend against the charges.

Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney

Contact a qualified attorney.