What Does Michigan Law Say About Spanking? Part 1

Child crying
Is spanking illegal in Michigan? What does the law, and the experts, have to say?

Spanking is a very controversial issue. There are many people who argue in favor of spanking their children, and just as many who believe that it is a form of abuse. For many people, they grew up being spanked by parents who loved them and wanted them to learn the error of their ways, which is why they advocate for spanking their own children. Others were abused by violent parents and cannot see how hitting a child can ever be done in love. But what does state law say about it?

Is spanking illegal in Michigan?

In Michigan, the law says that spanking by a parent or guardian is considered to be acceptable, as long as it is for the purpose of discipline, and that only “reasonable force” is used. Spanking, when administered ‘correctly’ is considered to be different from child abuse. This is because child abuse is defined as “harm or threatened harm to a child’s health or welfare that occurs through nonaccidental physical or mental injury, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, or maltreatment.”

In other words, if a parent spanks a child because they are disciplining them, and the discipline does not cause any wounds or lasting damage, then it should not be cause for concern. We say “should not” because even though the law doesn’t forbid it, a number of parents have faced charges over the years for spanking their children.

Have people been charged with child abuse for spanking their kids?

Yes, several parents here in Michigan have faced child abuse charges for spanking their children. One example of this is the case of Mara A. Hess-Schoonveld, a 24-year-old resident of Bay City, MI, who was accused of “excessively spanking her 6-year-old step-daughter.” As a result of this allegation, she was charged with Third Degree Child Abuse, which is a felony.

According to court records, law enforcement became involved in the matter when Hess-Schoonveld’s step-daughter was taken to a local hospital for treatment by her biological mother. The girl’s mother noticed red marks on her buttocks while bathing her, and called 911. The girl told officers that her step-mother had spanked her several times on her bare buttocks for three days in a row.

What happens to parents who are accused of child abuse for spanking?

But once all the facts came out in court, it was revealed that the girl’s stepmother had tried everything she could think of to get the girl to eat, before finally resorting to corporal punishment in a desperate attempt to get food into the child. The jury spent three hours in deliberations before announcing that Hess-Schoonveld was not guilty of criminal child abuse.

As you can see, just because someone is charged with child abuse for spanking, does not mean that they will be convicted. In many cases, parents are acquitted, or the charges are dismissed.

This was the case for Elizabeth Singler, a married mother of seven who was accused of using a wooden paddle to spank one of her children. Singler was arrested and charged with third degree felony child abuse and domestic violence. But days before her trial, where she faced the terrifying reality of two years in prison, the charges against her were dropped.

Join us next time as we look at what CPS has to say about spanking in Michigan, and what mental health professionals believe about using physical force to discipline a child. But until then, if you’ve been wrongfully charged for disciplining your child, contact us immediately at 866-346-5879. We can help you through this difficult time.