The statute of limitations for child abuse in the United States varies greatly by state, though the majority of states have similar laws in place. In federal cases, according to U.S. Code 18 Section 3283, the statute of limitations is for as long as the victim is alive or for 10 years after the event, whichever is longer. Almost every state waits to begin timing until after the child victim reaches the age of majority. While several states have adopted a tolling doctrine or have extended the time limit during which a victim can bring a civil case to court, only a handful of states have no time limit.
Most statutes of limitation for child abuse do not begin until the child has reached the age of majority, commonly 18 years old. This is because a minor cannot typically take any legal action until that time. In some states, the statute of limitations begins timing once the child leaves the care of the adult in question. This law typically only applies to cases in which legal emancipation has taken place.
Following the discovery of the tendency of child abuse victims — especially those who were sexually abused — to repress memories of their abuse, many states adopted a tolling doctrine. While the specifics vary by jurisdiction, the basic premise is that the statute of limitations for child abuse does not begin timing until the victim remembers the abuse. The legal argument for this doctrine is based on the idea that memory repression is a mental health issue that essentially keeps the victim from being legally able to take any action, similar to the argument that allows timing to begin only after the victim has reached the age of majority. At least 42 states have enacted a tolling doctrine for child abuse cases.
While the statute of limitations for child abuses cases varies greatly by state, there are a few that have no limitations. In Texas, the time limit is determined on a case-by-case basis. Florida has a seven-year statute of limitations, though sexual abuse has no limitation. In California, the statute of limitations for child abuse and sexual abuse is eight years. Overall laws range from two years to 17 years or more after the victim reaches the age of majority.
Child abuse, considered one of the most horrendous crimes in almost every society, is handled differently in almost every state in the U.S. The only commonality between these laws is that timing begins at the age of majority and excessively horrendous crimes, which are typically determined by a judge, can cause the time limit to be waived. Some state laws are controversial, and many child protective agencies are pushing for the federal statute of limitations for child abuse to be the law in every state.