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CHILD ABUSE AND NEGLECT – PART 4: ABUSED CHILD – A PARENT’S RIGHT TO USE REASONABLE CORPORAL PUNISHMENT TO MAINTAIN DISCIPLINE

While virtually all investigators with Child Protective Services, members of law enforcement, prosecutors and even judges have chosen to totally disregard a parent’s right to use reasonable corporal punishment, New York law permits parents to use reasonable corporal punishment to maintain discipline. Indeed, Penal Law 35.10(1) states in substance that a parent may use “physical force … when and to the extent that he reasonably believes it necessary to maintain discipline or to promote the welfare of [the child]”. Furthermore, the Family Court Act only prohibits the infliction of “excessive corporal punishment” (Family Court Act § 1012(f)(i)(B)). Therefore, corporal punishment that is not excessive does not run afoul of the Family Court Act. What this means is that a parent who uses reasonable corporal punishment in New York should not find themselves criminally charged with Assault or the subject of a child abuse investigation.

Perhaps New York Child Protective Services, the New York City Administration for Children’s Services, members of law enforcement, doctors, nurses, school teachers and those nosey neighbors next door should be reminded that “[i]t is important that we not lose sight of a parent’s common-law privilege to use reasonable physical force to discipline his or her children.” In re Peter G., 6 A.D.3d 201, 206, 774 N.Y.S.2d 686, 689 (1st Dept. 2004).

However, parents would be ill advised to believe they can actually inflict reasonable corporal punishment. Despite the fact that the Family Court Act only prohibits excessive corporal punishment, and despite the fact that a parent’s right to utilize reasonable corporal punishment is as old as mankind, and despite the fact that the Penal Law allows a parent to use physical force to maintain discipline or to promote the welfare of their child, almost any allegation of corporal punishment brought to the attention of your child’s teacher, doctor, other mandatory reporters or just your nosey neighbor will undoubtedly result in an investigation by Child Protective Services and maybe even the police.

The reality is, the Department of Social Services, Child Protective Services, the Administration for Children’s Services, social workers, pediatricians, law enforcement, school administrators and others have simply chosen ignore a parent’s right to inflict reasonable corporal punishment. Unfortunately, a parent’s right to utilize reasonable corporal punishment had devolved into nothing more than meaningless words. Very rarely will a courageous judge find that the parent was inflicting permissible corporal punishment thereby exonerating that parent. But even in such a situation, that parent will have already gone through a year or more of a living hell tangled up in the Family Court and/or Criminal Court before he or she was exonerated.

If you have any questions regarding child abuse and neglect or if you are the subject of a child abuse or neglect investigation, contact Tilem & Campbell toll free at 1-877-377-8666 for a free consultation or visit us on the web at www.tilemandcampbell.com. You do have rights and you should know them.