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State by State — United States statutes as they pertaining to spanking and child abuse.
As a parent I am shocked to hear that parents are going to jail for spanking their child. This notion that "we never spank a child" is just ridiculous. There are times whem a spanking is exactly what is called for. Too bad some parents spank first and ask questions later. Unfortunately, it is illegal to spank your child in some states. So, know the law in your state... or face the consequences.
Editors Note: This page is continually being updated. This information has been posted here in order to allow parents to read the state statutes for themselves and find other pertinent code sections. I could use some help. If you have the time, please look up the code for your state and e-mail them to me, I'll add them as soon as they come in. Thanks for any help you can offer!
Select your state
Warning: The existence of these laws should not be considered to be a defense for actually spanking a child in any state in the United States. Family courts have been known to ignore the law. Exercising your rights may be costly and time consuming and you could still lose your case, even though you are in the right.
Parent/guardian/person responsible for care and supervision of a minor/teacher
or other person responsible for care and supervision of a minor for a special
purpose may use reasonable and appropriate physical force when and to the extent
he reasonably believes it necessary and appropriate to maintain discipline or
promote welfare of the child.
When and to the extent reasonably necessary and appropriate to promote the
welfare of the child or incompetent person, a parent, guardian, or other person
entrusted with the care and supervision of a child under 18 years of age or an
incompetent person may use reasonable and appropriate non deadly force upon that
child or incompetent person.
A parent or guardian and a teacher or other person entrusted with the care and
supervision of a minor or incompetent person may use reasonable and appropriate
physical force upon the minor or incompetent person when and to the extent
reasonably necessary and appropriate to maintain discipline.
Abuse does not include physical discipline of a child if reasonable and
moderate and inflicted by a parent or guardian for restraining or correcting
a child. Listed as not reasonable or moderate for correcting or restraining:
-- Throwing, kicking, burning, biting, cutting, striking with a closed fist,
shaking a child under 3, striking or other actions which result in any
non-accidental injury to a child less than 18 months, interfering with a child's
breathing, threatening a child with a deadly weapon, striking a child on the face,
or any other act that is likely to cause bodily harm greater than transient pain
or minor temporary marks. [Statute says this is an illustrative and not exclusive
list]. Age, size, condition of the child, and the location of the injury and
frequency or recurrence of injuries shall be considered in determining
"reasonable" or "moderate."
Parent/teacher/guardian/other with care and supervision of a minor may use
reasonable and appropriate physical force when and to the extent reasonably
necessary to maintain discipline or promote the welfare of the child.
Justification is not available if person recklessly or negligently injured
or created a substantial risk of injury to a person.
Law not intended to prohibit the use of reasonable methods of parental
discipline, or to prescribe a particular method of parenting. Serious
physical harm does not include reasonable and age-appropriate spanking to
the buttocks where there is no evidence of serious physical injury.
Abuse includes unlawful corporal punishment or injury.
"Unlawful corporal punishment
or injury" is any person willfully inflicting upon a child any cruel or
inhuman corporal punishment or injury resulting in a traumatic condition.
Any investigation of child abuse shall take into account the child-rearing
practices of the child's culture. Child abuse and neglect does not include
acts which can be reasonably construed to be a reasonable exercise of parental
A continued pattern of conduct which results in cruel punishment or
accumulation of injury which results in death or serious bodily injury
is child abuse.
Parent/guardian/ person with care and supervision of minor can use
reasonable and appropriate physical force, if it is reasonably necessary
and appropriate to maintain or promote welfare of child.
Connecticut2011 Connecticut Code Title 53 Crimes, Chapter 939 Offenses Against the Person Sec. 53-20. Cruelty to persons.
(b) (1) Any person who, having the control and custody of any child under the age of nineteen years, in any capacity whatsoever, intentionally maltreats, tortures, overworks or cruelly or unlawfully punishes such child or intentionally deprives such child of necessary food, clothing or shelter shall be fined not more than five thousand dollars or imprisoned not more than five years or both.
(2) Any person who, having the control and custody of any child under the age of nineteen years, in any capacity whatsoever, with criminal negligence, deprives such child of necessary food, clothing or shelter shall be fined not more than five hundred dollars or imprisoned not more than one year or both.
Article: Delaware Law Bans Parents from Spanking their Kids
Delaware has become the very first state to pass a controversial law that effectively outlaws the corporal discipline of children by their parents. Senate bill 234 was signed into law by Governor Jack Markell on September 12. Sponsored by Delaware's Senate Majority Leader Patricia Blevins, the bill redefines child abuse laws to include any act that causes "pain."
The legislation classifies child abuse as a separate crime in the state and increases penalties in child abuse cases. Prior to the new law, child abuse cases were prosecuted under the same statute dealing with assault by abuse or neglect that applied to adult victims. "Assaults against children are different than assaults against adults," said Sen. Blevins. "So, it is important to make this a standalone crime."
Teachers - Corporal Punishment in schools.
District of Columbia
[District of Columbia Official Code]
Abuse includes excessive corporal punishment.
"Abuse" means any willful act or threatened act that results in any
physical, mental, or sexual injury or harm that causes or is likely to cause the
child's physical, mental, or emotional health to be significantly impaired. Abuse
of a child includes acts or omissions. 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.
"Harm" to a child occurs when the parent or other person responsible
for the child's welfare inflicts or allows to be inflicted upon the child physical,
mental, or emotional injury. The following factors must be considered in evaluating
any injury: prior injuries; location; multiplicity; and type of trauma. Such injury
include, but are not limited to willful acts that produce the following specific
injuries: sprains, dislocations, or cartilage damage; bone or skull fractures;
brain or spinal cord damage; intracranial hemorrhage or injury to other internal
organs; asphyxiation, suffocation, or drowning; injury resulting from the use of
a deadly weapon; burns or scalding; cuts, lacerations, punctures, or bites; permanent
or temporary disfigurement; or permanent or temporary loss or impairment of a body
part or function. "Willful" refers to the intent to perform an action, not
to achieve a particular result or an intent to cause an injury.
Physical forms of discipline may be used as long as there is no physical injury
to the child.
Parent/guardian/person responsible for general care and supervision of minor/person
acting at request of above may use force if. -- employed with due regard for age and
size of minor and reasonably related to purpose of safeguarding or promoting welfare
of minor, including prevention or punishment of minor's conduct, and -- not designed
to cause or known to create a risk of causing substantial bodily injury, disfigurement,
extreme pain, mental distress, or neurological damage.
Abuse includes physical cruelty in excess of that required for reasonable
disciplinary purposes, inflicted by a parent or other person in whom legal
custody is vested.
An "abused child" includes any child whose parent/immediate family member/person responsible for the child's welfare/individual residing in the same house/paramour of child's parent inflicts excessive corporal punishment. Secs. 325 5/3/ [Civil Code]
Law does not limit right of parent/guardian/custodian to use reasonable
corporal punishment when disciplining a child.
Child endangerment includes using unreasonable force, torture, or cruelty
which results in physical injury, is intended to cause serious injury, or
causes substantial mental or emotional harm.
Abuse includes cruel and inhuman corporal punishment.
Parent/guardian/person/teacher with care and supervision of minor can use
force if person believes force necessary for welfare of child and force is
not designed to cause or known to cause a substantial risk of causing death,
serious physical injury, disfigurement, extreme pain, or extreme mental
In determining abuse the agency should take into account that an injury may have resulted from what might be considered reasonable discipline for a child's misbehavior. Children's Code Art. 615(A). [Civil Code] Parent/tutor/teacher reasonably disciplining a minor has a defense to a criminal prosecution based on that conduct. § 14:18. [Criminal Code]
It is a crime for parent, guardian, or other person with care and custody of a child to cruelly treat a child by extreme punishment. 17-A Part 2, Chapter 23 § 554(1)(B-1) Endangering the welfare of a child. [Criminal Code]
Title 17-A, Chapter 5 § 106
— Physical force by persons with special responsibilities
[Maryland: Michie's Legal Resources]
Nothing in this subtitle shall be construed to prohibit reasonable punishment,
including reasonable corporal punishment, in light of the age and condition of
the child, from being performed by a parent or stepparent of the child.
[The General Laws of Massachusetts]
In Massachusetts, there is no specific list of actions that constitute abuse. Moreover, a parent doesn't have to injure a child to be reported - as long "as the substantial risk of harm" is there. "The legislature has balanced opposing societal viewpoints," says Juliana Rice, an assistant attorney general representing the commissioner of the DSS. Recognizing that "what may be harmful for one child may not be harmful for another," the law does not define abuse in terms of parental conduct, but rather on the degree of harm to the child.
"Abuse" is defined as, the willful infliction of injury, unreasonable
confinement, intimidation, including verbal or mental abuse, or punishment with
resulting physical harm, pain or mental anguish or assault and battery; provided,
however, that verbal or mental abuse shall require a knowing and willful act
directed at a specific person.
[Michigan Legislative Council Chapter Index]
Parent/guardian/other person permitted by law, parent, or guardian can
reasonably discipline a child, including the use of reasonable force.
§ 750.136b.. [Criminal Code]
Parent/legal guardian/caretaker who intentionally uses unreasonable force or
cruel discipline that is excessive under the circumstances is guilty of malicious
Physical discipline (not to include any form of sexual abuse) performed on a child by a parent, guardian or custodian shall only be deemed to be abuse under this paragraph when a licensed physician has determined that physical injury has occurred. § 97-5-39(2(m)). [Criminal Code]
Discipline including spanking, administered in a reasonable manner, is not
Force justified if by parent/guardian/other person with care and
supervision of minor if- -- Person believes force necessary to promote welfare
of minor, and -- Force used is not designed to cause or believed to create a
substantial risk of causing death, serious physical injury, disfigurement,
extreme pain, or extreme emotional distress.
"Physical abuse" is defined as "substantial skin bruising,
internal bleeding, substantial injury to skin, subdural hematoma, intentional
burns, bone fractures, extreme pain, permanent or temporary disfigurement,
impairment of any bodily organ or function, or death if the injury or death
is not accidental." § 41-3-102. [Civil Code] Parent or authorized agent of
parent/guardian/master/teacher is justified to use force if reasonable and
necessary to restrain or correct child.
It is abuse to knowingly, intentionally, or negligently cause or permit a child
to be cruelly punished.
Excessive corporal punishment may cause physical or mental injuries which
Parent/guardian/person/teacher responsible for general care and welfare of minor may use force against minor when and to the extent that he reasonably believes it necessary to prevent or punish minor's misconduct. No defense available for malicious or reckless use of force that creates risk of death, serious bodily injury, or substantial pain. § 627:6. [Criminal Code]
Cruelty to a child includes inflicting unnecessarily severe corporal punishment
upon a child.
An abused child includes one who has been cruelly punished by a
parent/ guardian/ custodian.
Neglecting a child includes unreasonably inflicting or allowing the infliction of harm or substantial risk thereof, including excessive corporal punishment. Family Court § 1012. [Civil Code] Parent/guardian/other person with care and supervision of person under 21, can use non-deadly physical force when and to the extent he reasonably believes necessary to maintain discipline or promote welfare of person force performed upon. Penal § 35:10. [Criminal Code]
North Carolina General Statutes
Abuse includes infliction of a serious physical injury by other than accidental means; creating a substantial risk of such injury by other than accidental means; and using cruel or grossly inappropriate procedures or devices to modify behavior. Juvenile § 7B-101(1). [Civil Code]
North Carolina does allow parents to physically discipline their children. Following is the guidance that is within our Child Protective Services Manual for county Department of Social Services, parents and individuals to review and follow:
"Harm" includes injuries sustained from excessive corporal punishment.
§ 50-25.1-02. [Civil Code] Parent/guardian/other person responsible for care and
supervision of minor/person acting at direction of the above can use reasonable
force on a minor for safeguarding or promoting his welfare, including prevention
or punishment of his misconduct and maintenance of proper discipline. Force does
not have to be "necessary," but cannot create substantial risk of death,
serious bodily injury or disfigurement, or gross degradation.
Not abuse if not prohibited under law prohibiting endangering children. "Endangering children" is administering corporal punishment or other physical discipline, or physically restraining the child in a cruel manner or for a prolonged period if the punishment or discipline is excessive under the circumstances and creates a substantial risk of serious physical harm to the child.
§ 2151.031. [Civil Code] It is a criminal act to administer
corporal punishment or other physical discipline, or to physically restrain
the child in a cruel manner or for a prolonged period if it is excessive under
the circumstances and creates a substantial risk of serious physical harm to
the child. It is a criminal act to administer unwarranted disciplinary measures
to child if there is a substantial risk that if conduct is continued it will
seriously impair the child's health or development.
Parents/teachers/other persons can use ordinary force as a means of discipline, including but not limited to spanking, switching, or paddling. 21 § 844. [Criminal Code] Criminal penalty for using unreasonable force upon a child under 18. 10 § 7115. [Criminal Code]
Physical force is justified if parent/guardian/other person with the care
and supervision of a minor uses reasonable force when and to the extent the
person reasonably believes necessary to maintain discipline or promote welfare
Parents can use reasonable supervision and control when raising their children. 23 § 6302. [Civil Code] Parent/guardian/person responsible for general care and supervision/ person acting at request of the above may use force for the purpose of safeguarding or promoting welfare of minor including the prevention or punishment of his misconduct, if the force is not designed to cause or known to create a substantial risk of causing death, serious bodily injury, disfigurement, extreme pain, mental distress, or gross degradation. 18 § 509. [Criminal Code]
[State of Rhode Island General Laws]
Abuse occurs when a child's physical or mental welfare is harmed or threatened by a parent or person responsible for child's welfare, by means including excessive corporal punishment which causes physical or mental injury or creates or allows to be created a substantial risk of physical or mental injury. §40-11-2. [Civil Code] Serious physical injury is any injury, other than a serious bodily injury, arising from other than non-excessive corporal punishment. §11-9-5.3. [Criminal Code]
"Harm" includes excessive corporal punishment. "Harm" does not include corporal punishment or physical discipline if- Administered by a parent or person acting in place of a parent, Perpetrated for the sole purpose of restraining or correcting, Force is reasonable in manner and moderate in degree, There is no permanent damage, and Behavior is not reckless or grossly negligent. § 20-7-490. [Civil Code]
It is abuse to cruelly punish.
Permits criminal charges against a parent/guardian/custodian who administers
"unreasonable" corporal punishment which causes "injury"
to the child.
Abuse does not include reasonable discipline by a parent/guardian/managing or possessory conservator if child not exposed to substantial risk of harm. Family Code § 261.001. [Civil Code] Parent/stepparent/person standing in loco parentis to child is justified to use non-deadly force against a child under 18 when and to degree the actor reasonably believes necessary to discipline, or safeguard or promote child's welfare. Penal § 9.61. [Criminal Code]
Texas Law Help - An online resource for free and low-cost civil legal assistance for those who cannot afford legal help. Learn about your rights, self-help resources, and legal aid.
Force is justified if used for reasonable discipline of a minor by
parent/guardian/teacher /person standing in loco parentis.
An "abused or neglected child" means a child whose physical health, psychological growth and development or welfare is harmed or is at substantial risk of harm by the acts or omissions of his or her parent or other person responsible for the child's welfare. An "abused or neglected child" also means a child who is sexually abused or at substantial risk of sexual abuse by any person. Code § 33.4912 [Civil Code]
In a 2002 opinion, by Judge Richard S. Bray, in Gary Santos Guzman v. Commonwealth of Virginia, several precedents are cited regarding the line between corporal punishment and abuse. Although the references do not explicitly state "it is ok to spank a child," the verbiage clearly implies that in the eyes of the state, circumstances exist in which corporeal punishment can be administered without being considered abuse:
[W]here a question is raised as to whether punishment had been moderate or excessive, the fact is one for the [fact finder] to determine from the attending circumstances, considering the age, size and conduct of the child, the nature of the misconduct, and the kind of marks or wounds inflicted on the body of the child. [Harbaugh v. Commonwealth, (1969); see also Carpenter v. Commonwealth, (1947)].
The formatting of this online document makes the references a little unclear, but for more information, visit the Virginia Judicial System's webpage.
In addition, a 2008 Wiki Answer to the question "Is it legal to spank your children in Virginia" suggests Spanking is allowed in all states; the line between permitted corporal punishment and what is legally defined as abuse varies by state and is not always clear (laws typically allow "reasonable force" and "non-excessive corporal punishment"). It goes on to quote the verbiage above from Carpenter v. Commonwealth.
Physical discipline is not unlawful if reasonable and moderate and inflicted by parent /teacher/guardian for restraint or correction. Presumed unreasonable if the following are used to correct/ restrain: -- Throwing, kicking, burning, cutting, striking with a closed fist, shaking a child under 3, interfering with breathing, threatening with a deadly weapon, any other act likely to cause and which does cause bodily harm greater than transient pain or minor temporary marks. [Statute says this list is illustrative and not exclusive]. Age, size,condition of child, and location of injury are all factors in determining "reasonable" and "moderate." § 9A.16.100. [Criminal Code]
Physical injury can include that which is the result of excessive corporal
Use of force is justified when actor's conduct is reasonable discipline of a
child by a person responsible for child's welfare. Reasonable discipline may
involve only such force as a reasonable person believes is necessary. Never
reasonable to use force intended to cause great bodily harm or death, or which
creates an unreasonable risk of great bodily harm or death.
Abuse include excessive or unreasonable corporal punishment.
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Last Updated November 13, 2012