When Does Discipline Become Child Abuse?

December 29, 2022
Angry father disciplining child's bad behavior with possible spanking.
Angry father disciplining child's bad behavior with possible spanking.

Many parents and caregivers use spanking to discipline their children, while others believe that it is a form of child abuse. States like New Jersey might not have specific laws against spanking, but there are also statutes in place that define child abuse. When a parent or caregiver is accused of abusing a child, a court may have to evaluate the facts and apply state laws to arrive at a decision. If you are involved in a case involving allegations or charges of child abuse, you are urged to contact a DCPP lawyer immediately.

What are the Laws Against Child Abuse?

The federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act sets legal minimum standards that all states must follow, but there are also further laws by state. NJ Statutes 9:6-1 and 9:6-8.9. NJ 9:6-1 law applies to child abuse, abandonment, cruelty, and neglect. Regarding cruelty, it can include the following acts inflicted on a child:

  • Severe corporal (physical) punishment
  • Unnecessary physical or mental pain or suffering
  • Repeated, habitual torment
  • Willful acts of omission that lead to unnecessary pain and suffering
  • Unnecessary physical or mental strains, fatigue, or hardships that injure the child’s health or well-being.

NJ Statute 9:6-8.9 stipulates that an abused child is below age 18 and under the custody or control of a parent or guardian who does any of the following:

  • Inflicts or permits physical injury to the child that causes extended physical or mental health damage, disfigurement, or a substantial risk of death. It might not be considered abuse of the injury or death was an accident.
  • Creates a considerable, ongoing risk for the same kinds of damage, injuries, or risk of death as described above.

Other categories are seen as child abuse, such as failing to exercise a minimum degree of care for the child’s food, shelter, clothing, health care, and education, sexual abuse, and willful abandonment.

Could I Be Arrested for Spanking My Child?

It is possible to be arrested for spanking a child, but a court would need to determine if the accused parent or caregiver crossed the line into abuse. If the child shows physical evidence such as broken bones and bruises, the court might decide that too much force was used with intent to harm.

Ongoing physical force that uses a belt or other object, a closed fist, or full adult strength might be looked at as corporal punishment. Quick acts of physical discipline such as a mild spanking or slap might not fall into this category, but much will depend on federal and state laws. When someone is charged with child abuse, the prosecution would need to establish that intent to do harm and make the child suffer.

Spanking was an accepted form of child discipline for a long time, and some still feel that it is an effective way to discipline their kids. Others strongly feel that it is cruel. Mild spanking is not necessarily against the law, but there are statutes in place to protect children under 18 from being abused. As a general guideline, discipline that causes lasting physical and emotional harm is generally defined as child abuse. When cases are filed, the prosecuting authority and law enforcement will evaluate the circumstances and decide if criminal charges should be pursued.

Moorestown DCPP Lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker Represent Clients Involved in Child Abuse Cases

Accusations of child abuse should always be taken seriously, whether they are valid or not. For a confidential consultation, contact the experienced, compassionate Moorestown DCPP lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker. We can provide trusted legal guidance and protect your rights. Call our Cherry Hill, New Jersey offices at 856-210-9776 or complete our online form. We serve families in Haddonfield, Marlton, Medford, Moorestown, Mount Laurel, Voorhees, and South Jersey.

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