California law prohibits any adult, including parents, from willfully causing harm or injury to a child. The law against child abuse includes both physical and mental harm in its definition. While it is not technically illegal to spank a child, the distinction can be subtle. The California court of appeals has grappled with a clearer way to distinguish spanking as a form of discipline from striking a child with a belt or any object. Parents don’t always agree as to what is an appropriate method of discipline. If one parent crosses the line between discipline and abuse, the second parent does have legal recourse.
Corporal punishment is allowed in the State of California as long as it does not cause a child pain. In the 1992 case People v. Whitehurst, the Court of Appeals ruled that spanking is legal as a physical means of conveying the word no. The court expounded on this definition by adding that spanking becomes illegal when it is not warranted, not necessary or excessive.
Child abuse is not equal to corporal punishment in the eyes of the law. Striking a child is illegal when it involves unnecessary force, an instrument that causes bruising or methods that cause fear. The court used bruising as a benchmark for abuse since it is measurable and visible. Psychological harm is more difficult to identify and measure, but is nonetheless included in the definition.
While parents reserve the right to inflict reasonable corporal punishment on a child as a form of discipline, no parent has the right to abuse a child. If one parent is not able to distinguish between punishment and abuse, that parent has broken the law and can lose parental rights, custodial rights and/or the right to visit the child.
Posted in Child Support & Custody | Tagged child abuse, corporal punishment