Can I Spank my Child?

The issue of spanking doesn’t come up in my cases very frequently these days. In general, parents should work together to determine an appropriate discipline plan for their children. The problem sometimes arises when the parents cannot determine an appropriate plan and one parent is spanking the child and the other parent objects to spanking. Parents in Florida have a constitutional right to privacy in rearing their children, but that right to privacy is not without limits.

Case law has recognized the common law principal that parents may administer corporal discipline to their children, however, the discipline must be reasonable. The Florida legislature mentioned corporal punishment when they drafted the definition of abuse. The legislature noted that “corporal discipline of a child by a parent or legal custodian for disciplinary purposes does not in itself constitute abuse when it does not result in harm to the child.” The legislature went on to define corporal discipline to be excessively harsh if it is likely to result in physical injury, mental injury or emotional injury.

Case law in Florida has elaborated on what is considered excessively harsh. For example, in one case, a father who spanked his child once and left a bruise that required no medical attention was not considered excessively harsh discipline. But, when the punishment results in temporary disfigurement or significant bruises or welts, the court’s have found that to be considered abuse and excessively harsh.

In another case, the father beat a child five times with a belt, and later the same day, the father’s girlfriend beat the child three more times. The child was naked during both incidents. The father went on to testify that he would continue beating the child in that manner as it was the only effective way to discipline the child. The court found in this case that the discipline was excessively harsh and ultimately terminated the father’s parental rights.

Spanking and corporal discipline can be a weighted and emotional issue. It’s typically best to err on the side of caution and use other forms of discipline when available. If you suspect that your child is being disciplined inappropriately, it is best that you contact your expert family law attorney to discuss your rights and how the law can be applied to your case.