Family BondingCan You Sue Your Parents for Emotional Abuse?


Can You Sue Your Parents for Emotional Abuse?

Child abuse isn’t anything new and has been around since the dawn of human history. It occurs across all socio-economic levels, ethnicities, cultures, and religions which makes it a universal problem. The abuse children face comes in primarily 3 forms- physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. While none of them are any less serious than the other, emotional abuse seems to be the most common form of abuse most children face.

Parents are supposed to be the cornerstone of a child’s life, which makes it very unfortunate when parents become abusers themselves. Emotional abuse in American households is more commonplace than you think, but thankfully the justice system does allow emotionally abused children to sue their parents as adults. So can you sue your parents for emotional abuse? Let’s see the legality and how see the situation through the eyes of the law.

What is Emotional Abuse?

Unlike physical and sexual abuse which is measurable, emotional abuse is a lot harder to gauge as it involves control and manipulation tactics to cause emotional damage and scare the victims into silence. There is usually a consistent pattern of emotional abuse which slowly destroys the victim’s self-esteem and confidence.

Emotional abuse can contribute to a wide variety of negative emotions such as verbal abuse, embarrassment, shame, blame, and guilt. Once caught in the vicious cycle, a child who is a victim of emotional abuse is almost helpless unless someone notices their torment and steps up to help them.

Words aren’t the only thing that contributes to emotional abuse- maltreatment and silent treatment are also equally dangerous. Just in 2021 alone, there were 4 million reports of child maltreatment all across the US, and the number is getting worse with every passing year.

Some of the most common traits of emotional abuse include:

  • Ignoring a child or rejecting him/her completely.
  • Forcing children to do things they’re unwilling to do.
  • Publicly criticizing and humiliating children.
  • Pressuring children into doing things out of unrealistic expectations.
  • Denying a child basic amenities and lifestyle components like new clothes, books, toys, etc.
  • Exposing the child to illicit substances and domestic violence.

Due to its vague nature, the victims of emotional abuse are unable to do anything until they’re old enough to take legal actions, and even that’s a big if. If you were emotionally abused as a child and have control of your life now, you’re definitely eligible for compensation for all you went through in your most vulnerable years.

Consequences of Emotional Abuse as a Child

Consequences of emotional abuse as a child

The consequences of emotional abuse as a child can have long and far-reaching effects on an individual’s life. Children who suffer from emotional abuse as a child are more likely to have developmental problems such as being unable to speak properly and social awkwardness.

A large percentage of emotionally abused children become dependent on drugs and alcohol as adults. They’re also more likely to partake in criminal behavior as well. In a study by American SPCC, 14% of men and 36% of women in the US prison system were victims of child abuse in one form or another. [CHILD MALTREATMENT STATISTICS – American Spcc]

Girls on the receiving end of emotional abuse are more likely to engage in sexual behavior as well, having a 25% increased chance of teen pregnancy compared to girls who have a normal childhood. And of all this is just the beginning of a damaged and brutal life.

Emotional abuse survivors have a hard time being functional adults and can’t hold on to relationships properly due to the inherent mistrust and low self-esteem drilled into them during their formative years. As you can easily surmise, the consequences of emotional abuse on a child can be just as bad as physical and sexual abuse in the long run. Thankfully time and proper therapy can undo some of the damage.

Can You Sue Your Parents for Emotional Abuse?

Yes, you absolutely can, and definitely should if the circumstances are right. If you were abused by your biological parents or legal guardian as a child, you’re entitled to file a lawsuit against them. But saying so is easier than done because you’ll need to bring solid proof to the court that you were indeed emotionally abused as a child.

Things can get a bit difficult here since physical scars and medical reports aren’t there to prove your side of the story. But police reports, and filings from child protective services can come to your rescue provided they were made on time by the victim during the time of emotional abuse. These documents are absolutely necessary to make an actionable claim, otherwise, the perpetrators will walk away.

Another help you can seek out if you plan to sue your parents for emotional abuse is eyewitnesses such as relatives and neighbors, who can give a reliable form of testimony of your suffering under oath. Family testimonies are of course more valid, but you need a family member who is willing to step up for you and sour their relationship with your emotionally abusive parents.

However, when suing your parents for emotional abuse, you also should consider whether it’s worth it. Insurance companies don’t cover legal costs for emotional abuse charges, so unless your parents are really well off, you won’t be getting much out of the ordeal other than seeing your tormentors getting exposed and punished.

So before you get ready to throw a lawsuit at your emotionally abusive parents, make sure it will be worth the time and effort since lawyers don’t come cheap.

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Statute of Limitation for Emotional Abuse Victims

Statute of limitation for emotional abuse victims

Most states have a statute of limitation that dictates the deadline a victim has to take legal action against a perpetrator. Luckily, adult survivors of emotional abuse as a child have a pretty large window to take action against their abusive parents, as the statute of limitations for abusive parents is the same as the statute of limitations for personal injury in most states.

Victims of emotional abuse as children are eligible to take legal action once they’re 18 and have up to 3-5 years of time to process everything and take action under the guidance of their legal advisors. However, if you’re under 18 and still haven’t taken legal steps then there are some additional complications for you.

Firstly, since you’re underage, you’ll need a legal guardian of age who will stick by you and protect you when the legal proceedings get started.

Secondly, since you’ll have to be 18 to actually carry on the proceedings yourself, you have to give the guardian the authority to represent you in court while you’re still underage.

Telltale Signs of Emotional Abuse on Children

Telltale signs of emotional abuse on children

When you go to court to file a lawsuit against emotionally abusive parents, there need to be some definitive circumstances and traits that should be able to prove beyond doubt that you were a victim of emotional abuse as a child. Some of the most common traits of emotional abuse child victims include:

  • Withdrawn behavior in school and other public places: This is very commonplace and one of the easiest ways to identify an emotionally abused child.
  • Having difficulty in learning and focusing on things: Being constantly abused by parents puts mental pressure on children that leaves them too stressed to learn things effectively.
  • Clear external signs of lack of medical care such as cuts and bruises sustained by accident: Emotionally abusive parents are often very neglectful which can be observed from the poor physical condition of their children in external environments.
  • Tendency to steal food and money: Since emotionally abused children are locked away from the basic amenities their peers enjoy, they’re more likely to steal food and money to keep up appearances.
  • Wears worn and tattered clothes when their family is clearly better off: Neglect is also a form of emotional abuse, and this is easy to spot from the way an emotionally abused child dresses and carries himself/herself in public.
  • Reluctance to go back home: Emotionally abused children are often afraid to go back where they will face abuse again.
  • Being fearful when talking about one or both parents/guardians: Due to emotional manipulation and low self-esteem, emotional abuse victims are often reluctant or scared to talk about their abusers.
  • Constantly being fearful and paranoid: In extreme cases, emotionally abused children can suffer from constant fear and paranoia.

All of these signs can stay with the victim way into their adulthood and a good doctor can easily diagnose and document these traits for your lawsuit as definitive signs of suffering emotional abuse as a child.

Compensation for Emotional Abuse Victims

Compensation for emotional abuse victims

The amount of compensation you can file for emotional abuse as a child can vary greatly depending on your psychological condition and family circumstances. If your parents can afford to pay, then the court will order them to pay compensation based on their income and the value of their assets. The compensation amount will cover but not be limited to:

  • Medical costs for rehabilitation.
  • Total expenses incurred for mental health care.
  • Loss of potential income in the future.
  • Compensation for extreme mental duress.

But if they can’t pay you’ll still see justice in the form of incarceration as well. Local authorities and social services are very proactive in these kinds of situations and if their help isn’t enough, you can always get in touch with CICA (Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority).

To be brutally honest, in most instances where adult survivors have sued their parents /guardians for emotional abuse as a child have seen little success in terms of monetary compensation.

Unless the emotional abuse has left you extremely scarred and you feel compelled to see some form of justice, the time, money, and effort for a lawsuit will be better spent seeking proper therapy and living your best life.

According to Reddit user fog_of_time,” As someone who is currently in a legal battle with members of my extended family, I wanted to add my two cents. It has to be something so unbelievably worth it to sue someone. It is mentally and financially draining. I’ve been doing this for over 2 years and it’s still going. Even if you win (and it’s a big gamble) and get the money, I promise you it will not be worth the toll on your mental health. Money isn’t worth it, use the money you have now to improve your mental health and do things that make you happy because that is far more important.”


1. Is it justifiable to sue your parents for emotional abuse?

Yes, it is. But it’s up to you to decide whether it’s worth the time and effort.

2. What to do with an emotionally abusive parent?

If you’re of legal age, then you should move out of their home and cut all ties with them. If the abuse left you traumatized, you can consider taking legal action against them.

3. How do I prove emotional abuse in a court of law?

Proving emotional abuse in a court of law involves gathering evidence such as police reports, social service reports, video recordings, and eyewitness testimonies.

4. Can doctors help me to sue my parents for emotional abuse?

Directly they can’t. But they can be of great help indirectly by diagnosing your mental condition and preparing the documentation to be presented in court.

5. Can my abuser go to prison for emotionally abusing me as a child?

Yes, they can. However, the length of the sentence is determined on a case-by-case basis which could mean it might be a light punishment or a heavy punishment because it is difficult to gauge emotional abuse.

Final Thoughts

Every child deserves a happy and fulfilling childhood free from abuse and cruelty from the world surrounding them. But the sad reality is that we don’t live in an ideal world where we can give every child the childhood they deserve. This is even sadder when a child’s guardians themselves inflict emotional abuse on their wards.

And though there’s no guarantee that suing your parents for emotional abuse will bring any positive or productive results, it can bring you peace of mind to see justice served and create a warning for other emotionally abusive parents who abuse their children. So if you decide to sue your parents for emotional abuse, take all the practical factors into consideration before seeking out justice.

Next Attraction: Can I Call CPS for Parental Alienation?

Tyler S. Rios, a parent of two, shares her valuable insights into family life. Her blogs focus on parent-child relationships and navigating family conflicts. Tyler's wealth of experience empowers readers to handle family challenges with resilience and resolution.

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