I'm often asked if spanking a child is child abuse. The simple answer is "sometimes yes, sometimes no." A recent decision by Florida's First District Court of Appeal sheds some light on the question.
On February 11, 2011, a father, while holding his daughter's arm, spanked the daughter once on the rear end. The daughter testified that no mark was left as a result of the incident. The child's mother (also the father's ex-wife) requested a domestic violence injunction. The trial court (in Leon County) entered the domestic violence injunction and stated that the domestic violence statute did not allow parental discipline as a defense. The father appealed.
In reversing the lower court's decision, the First District Court of Appeals noted that a parent's right to administer reasonable and non-excessive corporal punishment (i.e. spanking) to discipline their child is legislatively recognized. Fla. Stat. 39.01(2) & 984.03(2). While the domestic violence statute does not allow for a parental discipline exception, the statute does not specifically exclude such a defense.
The court was careful to state that there have been examples of parental discipline that were unreasonable and, therefore, child abuse. The important question is "what is reasonable?"
The District Court of Appeal's opinion is only a few pages. If you would like to read it, please click here.
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