How to Tell The Difference Between Child Abuse And Corporal Punishment

This is a tough subject. And not just because child abuse is an inflamatory subject, or because people have very strong opinions about whether or not corporal punishment is an acceptable form of discipline. This is a tough subject because, contrary to popular belief, the law isn’t actually as “black and white” as you’d think. Many people make the mistake of assuming that law is clear and decisive on every topic. That things are either “good” or “bad”, “legal” or “illegal”. But it’s rarely that straightforward.

A child's hand holding a teddy bear, with an out of focus adult in the background. The words 'child abuse' are written across the top of the page.

While certain things are certainly allowed and not allowed under the law, there are many factors that play a role in determining if someone is going to get into trouble for a certain action. Why? Because the line between corporal punishment and child abuse can be pretty fuzzy. So it can be difficult to say exactly where the one ends and the other begins, making the whole subject really challenging for parents who want to parent according to their beliefs, but don’t want to break the law.

Michigan law allows spanking, but not without reservation.

Michigan law says that a parent may use “reasonable force,” when spanking a child. But that’s a very vague description, and being allowed to use corporal punishment as a form of discipline doesn’t mean a parent can indiscriminately hit a child in whatever way they want to. Much like “moderation” in drinking, every person’s idea of what defines “reasonable” is different. And the law doesn’t specify exactly what it deems to be “reasonable”

So in Michigan child abuse cases, “reasonable” is generally interpreted to mean that only an open hand can be used, and never above the shoulders (because even the slightest blow to the head can cause serious damage to a child’s developing brain!) As child abuse defense attorneys we have advised many clients on their parenting rights under the law, and a good rule of thumb is to never hit hard enough to leave a mark. If you choose to discipline your children with corporal punishment, be careful to restrain yourself so that you never leave bruises, lacerations, or welts.

CPS doesn’t approve of corporal punishment, even if it’s legal!

In the opinion of the average CPS worker, the line between physical discipline and physical abuse is too fine for most parents to see. (And unfortunately they’re sometimes right!) But there are just as many instances where they’re wrong, and loving parents are made into pariahs in the name of protecting children from abuse. A parent who chooses to spank their child as a form of discipline, which they are allowed to do under Michigan law, may end up facing child abuse charges and risk losing their kids to “the system” if they get reported, which is a tragedy. But this is where we come in…

Whether you advocate for spanking, or prefer other methods of discipline, remember that the choice is yours to make as a parent, so long as those choices don’t result in any type of injury to a child. If you happen to become involved in a child abuse case where the cops are questioning you, or CPS investigation where your parenting choices are questioned, contact us immediately at 800-576-6035. Our skilled CPS defense attorneys are available 24/7 to help you fight for your family’s future and defend your rights.