Discipline vs. Child Abuse

Last week, Adrian Peterson, the Minnesota Vikings' star running back, was indicted and is facing a felony charge for "reckless or negligent injury to a child." The football player allegedly beat his four-year-old child with a tree branch, leaving him with cuts and bruises on his back, buttocks, ankles, legs and scrotum. Peterson maintains that he didn't do anything wrong and was appropriately disciplining his child with a "whooping," a discipline he grew up with as a child.

This recent incident has been all over the news and highlights the blurry lines of permissible corporal punishment and child abuse. There are no federal laws banning spanking. School personnel in 19 states, mostly in the South, are still permitted to punish children for misbehaving with hitting. In New York, a parent or guardian is justified in using physical force on a child under the age of 21 when he reasonably believes it necessary to maintain discipline or to promote the welfare of the child. This justification also applies to a teacher entrusted with the supervision of a child under the age of 21 "for a special purpose." Penal § 35:10(1).

What do the courts consider as excessive corporal punishment? In one case, where a mother who struck her 5-year-old daughter with a belt six times, causing the child to sustain a laceration to her forehead that required medical attention, the court found that to be abuse/neglect. In re Delehia J., 93 AD3d 668 (2d Dept. 2012)

Likewise, where a father choked and scratched the neck of his son, the court determined that it was excessive corporal punishment. In re Jallah J., 118 AD3d 1000 (2d Dept. 2014)

On the other hand, a father using his open hand to hit his eight year old son for cursing at a friend's party was considered a "reasonable use of force." party. In re Laequise P., 119 AD3d 801 (2d Dept. 2014).

If you believe your child's other parent is abusing your child, rather than appropriately disciplining him or her, you should consult with an attorney at our firm. We can help you determine whether such conduct is actionable, and whether your child may be entitled to an order of protection against that parent, whether visitation can be suspended or supervised, and other remedies that may be available. Samuelson Hause & Samuelson, LLP is a boutique family law firm dedicated to helping protect families throughout Long Island and Manhattan.