Spanking: Child Abuse or Basic Discipline?
The debate as to whether spanking is proper punishment for children or is instead an abusive form of discipline can be subjective. Additionally, state laws, including California, vary as to the appropriate forms of punishment in different settings. This issue can come up when parents are dealing with custody issues and discipline.
In the heat of the moment what might normally be considered a light spanking by one parent can be viewed differently by the other parent. In some cases, the other parent may dramatize the situation in hopes of leveraging custody or even child support. It is especially important to seek legal advice from a California family law attorney should that occur.
Divorce or separation can also be a difficult time for children and it is not unusual for them to act out. Likewise, parents facing divorce may become frustrated more easily and have less patience with their children. This can lead to additional spanking, that although not abuse, may not sit well with the other parent.
If you are experiencing disagreements with the other parent on how to discipline your child, do not hesitate to consult with a family law attorney. Even in the smoothest divorce or separation, couples can have different views on what constitutes discipline or child abuse. It is helpful to communicate how your child will be disciplined after divorce. The will lead to less disagreements and will create a sense of consistency for the child.
Discipline Guidelines: General Rather Than Specific
In general, state laws provide only general guidance as to whether corporal punishment (i.e. spanking) is prohibited. Currently, state laws do not tightly restrict a parent’s ability to discipline their children, including spanking. A common-sense approach is recommended. For example, certain factors such as the duration, means or force used in a spanking are considered to determine if it is basic discipline or abusive to the point where spanking may be considered child abuse. Here are some additional factors:
- The child’s age, size and general health, and whether the child has developmental or other disabilities.
- If the “punishment” leaves bruises, welts, scars or open wounds.
- If an object is used for the spanking, its characteristics and type.
- Is it done with an open hand, for an extended duration or repeatedly, or with such force that the child is left with marks, bruises or broken skin.
A parent may find himself or herself on the defensive should the other parent allege child abuse. Accordingly, a parent should seek the representation of an attorney during this investigative process to help safeguard their parental rights, including custody and visitation.
If a child welfare agency becomes involved and finds that a parent has abused or neglected a child, it is essential that the parent seek legal representation. There is also a very limited window of time in which the parent can seek a review of that finding, by the agency and then by the courts. These indicated findings will remain on a person’s record. It can greatly affect their livelihood by preventing them from working in many areas including day care, education and health care.
A Family Law Attorney Can Help
You may wonder if based on your current family circumstances, you should avoid spanking as a form of discipline. You may need legal advice regarding what is the “gray area” regarding spanking. You may also need to create a formal agreement with the other parent on what is acceptable discipline. A family law attorney can guide you through this process and help you understand your parental rights.