Studies show that 77% of Americans agree that it is sometimes necessary to discipline their children with corporal punishment. And yet, in my experience, family law judges are quick to ban corporal punishment, and the result of violating said ban can result in supervised visitation, DCFS involvement, or worse, child abuse charges.
There is a fine line between spanking your children for discipline purposes and abuse. The law is not very clear on it. Some cases define acceptable spanking as using your hand to slightly spank a child. However, when a parent starts using a belt or other objects that leave physical marks on a child, a court is likely to consider that as inappropriate corporal punishment.
Experts at an American Bar Association meeting regarding child discipline discussed the different approaches to corporal punishment in different states. Some states allow parents to use reasonable force, others ban extreme or excessive force, and others still simply list the prohibited acts, such as cruelty or torture. One commentator noted that it depends on where you live. If you live in Texas, a court would likely allow corporal punishment so long as it is necessary for discipline or to promote the child’s welfare.
As a family law attorney in Illinois, I can tell you that corporal punishment is not allowed in Illinois. And if you are currently in divorce or parentage court regarding custody or visitation issues, I would especially advise you to not even slightly spank your child. Why risk it? The line is too thin for a judge to figure out whether the corporal punishment was unreasonable, and they would rather simply order visitation to be supervised until a therapist or court evaluator can figure out if the child has been harmed. By then, you would have had months of supervised or limited contact with your child. It’s not worth it.
And if you are happily married and both of you believe in corporal punishment, you may want to consider moving to Texas.