In today’s world, the subject of spanking your children is more controversial and debated than it was decades ago. Spanking is a form of corporal punishment some that some parents use to discipline their children. Today, more people view spanking as an unacceptable form of punishment that parents should avoid.

While spanking a child is not considered a separate and distinct crime, it can be considered child abuse in certain situations. Child abuse generally includes any act by a parent or guardian which is intended or reasonably likely to cause serious and permanent physical, psychological or emotional harm to a child.

Whether a parent will suffer legal consequences for spanking their child will depend on their state's laws and the level of force used to punish the child. Most state child abuse laws against child abuse clearly state that mild physical force for discipline is allowed. However, the discipline cannot cause severe pain or injury to the child and must be intended by the parent or guardian to be in the child’s best interest.

When is Spanking a Child Considered to be Abuse?

While it is the trend between the states to not expressly ban spanking as an accepted type of punishment, it can still be considered child abuse.

Mild spanking is generally legal in most states and not against the child’s best interest. This refers to spanking with a moderate, open-handed blow on a part of the body which is not particularly sensitive or prone to injury.

To determine if the spanking has crossed the line into child abuse, a court may evaluate some of the following factors:

  • The age of the child;
  • Reason for the spanking;
  • Condition of the child;
  • Mental capacity of the child;
  • Level of force used by the parent;
  • Whether the spanking was done with an open hand, as opposed to a fist or other object (such as a paddle);
  • Whether the child required medical treatment as a result of the spanking;
  • Where the child was spanked on their body; and
  • How frequently the child uses spanking as a punishment.

Situations involving the use of a paddle, closed fist or other object are commonly frowned upon by many courts. Many judges will likely determine that this level of force is unnecessary and exceeds the bar for acceptable punishment.

Other situations where spanking is commonly determined to be excessive and unnecessary is when the child has serious mental deficiencies or when a child needs medical attention from the spanking.

Spanking may be reported in many situations, including by a teacher or medical professional who learns of the spanking. These individuals are included in the class of mandatory reporters who are required to report confirmed or suspected instances child abuse.

Regardless, keep in mind that spanking is a touchy subject and whether the act is considered abuse is not always clear. After spanking is reported, whether it rises to the level of child abuse and warrants some type of punishment will ultimately be up to the court to decide.

What Happens When Someone is Accused of Child Abuse for Spanking Their Child?

If you are accused of child abuse for spanking your child, serious legal consequences may result. The outcome will be dependent on the facts of your particular situation, as well as your state’s child abuse laws.

The issue will go before a family court judge who will determine what is in the best interest of the child. The parent could also be charged with a felony or misdemeanor crime if the act rises to the level of child abuse and the spanking punishment was severe. Some potential legal consequences include:

  • Custody or visitation loss;
  • Altered custody or visitation agreement;
  • Jail time; and
  • Fines (depending on your jurisdiction).

In a situation involving a custody battle, spanking a child can have bearing on the ultimate decision of who gets custody. The other parent could use an instance of spanking to argue that the other parent is unfit to receive sole or partial custody. While not always the case, the court may decide to put more weight to this claim in this type of scenario when determining the best interests of the child.

Should I Contact an Attorney If I am Facing Charges for Spanking My Child?

If you have been accused of child abuse, it is highly recommended that you contact a local family attorney or local criminal attorney to explore your options and protect your rights. An attorney can review your state’s laws and prior decisions to help you determine if your behavior is considered to be abuse.

An attorney can also fight for you in court to protect your custody rights. If the court feels that a punishment is proper, an attorney can work with the court to try to get a less severe punishment and avoid losing all or some of your parental rights.