March 10, 2014 By Wallin & Klarich

When a child does something wrong, many parents believe in disciplining the child through spanking or some other form of corporal punishment. But some parents hesitate to spank their child because they are unsure if it is legal.

Various studies released over the past decade and beyond seem to indicate that is not “good parenting” to physically discipline a child as punishment. However, there are still many parents who strongly believe that when a child does something wrong, the best form of punishment to impose is a spanking.

Is this illegal? What type of physical discipline is lawful? Can social workers take away your child if you use a wooden spoon to spank him or her after they disobeyed family rules?

You Can Be Charged with Child Endangerment for Spanking Your Child

Thousands of children have been taken from their parents because the parents decided to use an object such as a wooden spoon to impose punishment. Some parents have even been arrested and criminally convicted for using similar punishment on their children. Child%20Abuse.jpg

California Penal Code 273(a) provides that a person is guilty of child endangerment if they:

  • Caused or permitted a child to suffer unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering;and
  • Was criminally negligent when he or she caused or permitted the child to suffer or be injured, or be endangered.

If you are being charged with child endangerment, an experienced attorney can argue a valid defense for you. The best defense against charges of child endangerment if you are using corporal punishment is that your conduct was not criminal, but instead was exercising reasonable discipline upon your child. “Reasonableness” is determined by these two factors:

  • Was the punishment warranted? and
  • Was the punishment excessive under the circumstances?

The court will review the surrounding circumstances to conclude whether the incident constitutes reasonable discipline.

Court Decision Opens Door for Parents to Spank Children

There is good news for parents who believe in reasonably disciplining their child. A recent Court of Appeals decision held that the parents who spanked their child on the buttocks with a wooden spoon as a form of discipline would not be charged with child abuse or child endangerment.

In this case (Gonzalez v. Santa Clara Dept. of Social Services, California Courts of Appeal – 6th District, No. H038241, Jan. 21, 2014), the parents’ 12-year-old child refused to do her school work, lied to her parents on multiple occasions and showed interest in joining a local gang. Her parents punished her by grounding her several times but she continued to revert back to her old ways.

After their disciplinary actions failed to improve their daughter’s behavior, the parents used a wooden spoon to spank her on the bottom each time she violated family rules.

The child told one of her classmates about the spankings. Soon after, social workers took over the case and removed the child from her parents’ custody.

When the case went to trial, the Court of Appeals ruled that the parents have the legal right to use discipline on their child so long as the force was reasonable and the punishment was necessary. The court found that the spanking was entirely the product of a “genuine disciplinary purpose” considering the parents had tried other measures of parental discipline. The court concluded that the use of a wooden spoon did not exceed the bounds of reasonable parental discipline.

This decision reversed the social worker’s findings of child abuse by the parents.

What Does this Mean for Parents Who Want to Physically Discipline Children?

It seems that if parents have tried other means of reasonable discipline with their child and those efforts have not been successful, it is now legal to use physical discipline that would include using a wooden spoon to spank the bottom of their child.

However, other questions remain unanswered. What if the discipline you impose leaves “marks” on the child? What if the child needs medical attention due to the punishment? Would those facts have changed the court’s opinion?

Should parents be allowed to use physical discipline on their children that includes the use of a wooden spoon? Wallin & Klarich would like your opinion on this highly controversial topic.

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