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Sparing the Rod−When Does Hitting Your Child Amount to Abuse?

Your friend spanked his own child for stealing money from his wallet, so his ex-wife threatened to have him arrested and charged with child abuse. A neighbor tried to stop her daughter from going out after curfew by grabbing her arm, and her daughter called the police to complain of child abuse. Can parents even discipline their children anymore?

A national debate exists over using physical force to discipline children. Courts are confronted on one side with parents who insist that they have the right to discipline their children without governmental interference or sanctions, and on the other side are child advocates who argue passionately that any physical discipline amounts to child abuse.

In Ohio, the state Supreme Court has ruled that a parent is not prohibited from using corporal punishment when disciplining his or her child. Parental discipline is an affirmative defense to a charge of child abuse or domestic violence involving a child. Courts have consistently held that “proper and reasonable parental discipline” does not amount to abuse or domestic violence.

Proper and reasonable parental discipline

The burden is on the parent to prove proper and reasonable parental discipline. How can a parent know what the court considers “proper and reasonable”? There is no hard and fast rule, but the courts look at a number of factors to determine what is “proper and reasonable” under the circumstances of each case:

  • the child’s age
  • the child’s behavior
  • the child’s general response to non-corporal punishment
  • the location, and severity, of the punishment

The demeanor of the parties at the time of the discipline will also play a part in the court’s decision. Was the parent in a rage and out of control and the child traumatized? Or was the child defiant and angry while the parent was concerned about the child’s welfare? Or was the parent calm and rational and the child accepting of the discipline?

If you or someone you know is threatened with a charge of child abuse or domestic violence for disciplining a child, you want the skilled services of Yavitch & Palmer Co., LPA, Ohio’s highly rated professional criminal defense firm. Charges as serious as child abuse and domestic violence are best handled by attorneys who focus entirely on criminal defense in Ohio. Our firm is staffed by attorneys recognized for their professional excellence and the highest levels of skill and integrity.

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