Is Spanking Considered Child Abuse?

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In 2016, an estimated 676,000 children suffered abuse and neglect in the United States, and 1,750 children died as a result. Entrusted with the children’s safety, Child Protective Services (CPS) serves more than three million children each year. With more than 35 years experience practicing family law in California, Schoenberg Family Law Group holds the well-being of children above all else and has the experience, expertise and compassion to bring an equitable resolution to your case.

Under California law, there are degrees to which a parent can use physical means to discipline his or her children. The most important factor is always the safety and well-being of the child receiving the discipline. Researchers have published an array of longitudinal studies examining the benefits and drawbacks of mild physical discipline, such as spanking. The studies analyze the long-term effects on the psychology of the child, along with the health of the relationship with the disciplining parent. There is evidence supporting the use of spanking and evidence condemning the practice.

Are You Allowed to Legally Spank Your Child?

Laws governing all 50 states, including the District of Columbia, permit corporal punishment, including spanking children. However, laws vary from state to state, and legal definitions are generally open to interpretation by officers of the court such as law enforcement, CPS, and a family court judge.

Some language in state laws is more vague, whereas other statues explicitly define what actions are legal. In Utah, for instance, the law prohibits the use of “serious physical injury” but permits the use of the “reasonable discipline of minors.” The two opposing definitions give law officers the responsibility of determining what is reasonable discipline and what is serious physical injury.

Washington State is more specific in their definition, allowing “reasonable and moderate” discipline with children and specifically outlawing burning, cutting, kicking, throwing, or shaking a child under 3 years old. Washington law also prohibits threatening with a deadly weapon, interfering with breathing, and other specific instances of disciplining a child.

The word that appears in most statutes is “reasonable.” Some argue that the lack of a well-defined standard can give states’ attorneys leeway in deciding whether to prosecute a case. Others argue that the ambiguity in language can give leeway to a parent, thus putting the child at a greater risk of abuse.

Can My Child’s Teacher Use Corporal Punishment?

Though 31 states have outlawed the use of corporal punishment by a teacher, it is still legal in 19 states. Just as in the parental sense, laws governing the use of physical discipline by teachers vary significantly from state to state, but the language consistently differentiates disciplinary acts by what is “reasonable.”

When Are You Not Allowed to Spank a Child?

You cannot physically discipline a child that is not biologically or legally yours, including situations when you are serving in a custodial role, such as having your child’s friend spend the night. The consequences of spanking a child who is not your own most likely will not result in criminal charges, but the child’s parent has the right to take legal action against you.

At the Schoenberg Family Law Group, we have experience dealing with the complexities of parenting and all aspects of family life. Our firm builds relationships based on trust, integrity, and open communication. Every member of our legal team strives to support our clients through difficult and painful situations. We will do all we can to win your case and support you and your family with determination and compassion. To speak with a San Francisco child custody attorney, please contact us online.

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