June 15, 2018 |

Is Spanking Your Child Against the Law in New York?

Being a parent isn’t easy. For all of the joys your kids bring, it is a full-time job to keep them safe and out of trouble and help them build the character, attitudes, and habits that will serve them well as they grow up. It is also a universal truth that every kid makes mistakes and that sometimes, good parenting involves disciplining your child.

But every parent has their own philosophy or way they go about applying that discipline. It may involve grounding them, taking away privileges like phones or other devices, or maybe just a stern talking to. For some parents, discipline may also include spanking.

While opinions differ significantly about whether spanking, or corporal punishment, is acceptable or not, what does New York law say about it? Is it legal to spank your child in New York?

The answer is that you can spank your child, but only within reasonable limits. New York law carves out exceptions for certain acts which could otherwise be the basis of a battery charge or other crime involving unwanted physical contact.

Specifically, New York Penal Law § 35.10 provides that:

A parent, guardian or other person entrusted with the care and supervision of a person under the age of twenty-one… may use physical force, but not deadly physical force, upon such person when and to the extent that he reasonably believes it necessary to maintain discipline or to promote the welfare of such person.

However, this statute allowing for the parental application of corporal punishment has limits, and other provisions of New York law further define those limits. For example, New York Family Court Act § 1012 defines the characteristics of a “neglected child” for purposes of state intervention to protect the welfare of such a child. That definition includes a child less than eighteen years of age:

“whose physical, mental or emotional condition has been impaired or is in imminent danger of becoming impaired as a result of the failure of his parent or other person legally responsible for his care to exercise a minimum degree of care… by unreasonably inflicting or allowing to be inflicted harm, or a substantial risk thereof, including the infliction of excessive corporal punishment.”

Of course, defining what is “excessive” or what is “reasonably necessary” is not an exact science, and New York statutes do not further extrapolate on specifics. However, at least one New York appellate court has held that a parent’s open-handed spanking of his 8-year-old child as a form of discipline after hearing the child swear at an adult was “a reasonable use of force and, under the circumstances presented here, did not constitute excessive corporal punishment."

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