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NEW YORK CHILD ABUSE AND NEGLECT – PART 5: A PARENT’S RIGHT TO USE REASONABLE CORPORAL PUNISHMENT TO MAINTAIN DISCIPLINE IS NOT A LICENSE TO CRUELLY BEAT ONE’S CHILD

As I have explained in my previous blog, the common law, the Penal Law and the Family Court Act all, in theory, allow a parent to inflict reasonable corporal punishment. This does not mean, however, that a parent may freely beat his or her child. To the contrary, “a parent may use some physical force in disciplining their children, but it has to be reasonable and in no way gives them permission to cruelly beat their children.” People v. Prue, 219 A.D.2d 873 (4th Dept. 1995). Similarly, in Matter of Rodney C., 91 Misc. 2d 677 (1977), the Family Court of Onondaga County held that parents do not have an unlimited license to use physical force against their children.

In Monroe v. Blum, 90 A.D.2d 572 (3rd Dept.1982) the Appellate Division, Third Department held that marks on a 16 year-old child’s lower back and buttocks, caused by the father striking the child with a plastic cord and belt, in addition to the fact that the father threw milk on the child, amounted to substantial evidence of excessive corporeal punishment.

In Matter of Jonathan C., 195 A.D.2d 554, 600 N.Y.S.2d 480 (2nd Dept.1993), the Appellate Division, Second Department upheld a finding that a mother had neglected her child where she admittedly struck her five-year-old son, causing him to lose consciousness. The Court concluded that the child’s physical condition was impaired by the unreasonable infliction of excessive corporal punishment and upheld the placement of the child with the Commissioner of Social Services for a period of nine months.

As shown by the above cases, a parent would be ill advised to dispense unreasonable, unnecessary and excessive corporal punishment thinking they can rely on their common law and statutory right to inflict corporal punishment. Further, what many parents don’t realize is their right to utilize reasonable corporal punishment is in reality a defense under New York law. That means that the parent doesn’t avoid the prosecution for assault on their child or the finding of abuse or neglect by simply telling investigators they were simply disciplining their child. That’s not how it works at all. In reality, the slightest indication of corporal punishment will result in a Child Protective Services investigation and possible police investigation. The parent can really only utilize the “corporal punishment defense” after they have been indicated as an abuser or neglecter or charged with some type of criminal assault against their child. And while the parent might win in the end, it will take months if not years to do so and during that time, orders of protection will be issued, the parent and/or child might be ordered to counseling and the parent might be excluded from the home. So the question becomes, does a parent’s common law and statutory right to inflict reasonable corporal punishment amount to anything more than hollow, worthless words?

For more information about child abuse and neglect cases including any criminal charges resulting from the alleged abuse or neglect of a child, contact Tilem & Campbell toll free at 1-877-377-8666 or visit us on the web at www.tilemandcampbell.com.