Can New Jersey Parents Legally Spank Their Children?


In New York State, the headline-making court case this week was one apparently giving parents the legal green light to spank their kids. Issued Wednesday, the state Appellate Division found that a father’s spanking of an 8-year-old boy “was a reasonable use of force.” This reversed a Family Court judge’s ruling last year that had found the father’s spanking qualified as child abuse on the grounds of“inflicting excessive corporal punishment.” The matter first landed in court when a father was reported for allegedly spanking his child with an open hand as punishment for the child cursing while they were at a party at friend’s home. Initial accusations also stated the father used a belt to punish the child were also made, but these allegations were later found to be unsubstantiated. In regards to the spanking,“…the father’s open-handed spanking of the child as a form of discipline after he heard the child curse at an adult was a reasonable use of force and, under the circumstances presented here, did not constitute excessive corporal punishment,” the four-judge panel ruled in a unanimous decision. What if this same case happened in New Jersey? The issue of child spanking currently falls into a gray area of the law. While spanking or corporal punishment is not illegal in New Jersey, if it is excessive and leaves marks, bruises or injuries, the adult issuing the punishment could be charged with a crime, according to New Jersey Department of Child Protection & Permanency (formerly DYFS) standards. A 2009 ruling based on a case in which a father reportedly spanked his son in a mall parking lot gives some guidance on how the court interprets the law around spanking. In the case, a father was initially charged after he was reported taking his 2-year-old son out to the parking lot and gave him a paddling after he “began acting out” at Quaker Bridge Mall in Lawrence, NJ. The charge was later dismissed by the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office, following an investigation by the state Division of Youth and Family Services, as it was then known. Assistant Prosecutor Robin Scheiner said at the time that the statute that Johnson was charged under is “vague.” Like New York, while spanking or corporal punishment is not illegal in New Jersey, if it is excessive and leaves marks, bruises or injuries, a person could be charged with a crime, Assistant Prosecutor Jennifer Downing, head of the child abuse and sexual assault unit, told in a news article on the case. “Often times we are not successful indicting or prevailing at trial in these types of cases as jurors feel a parent has the right to punish or discipline a child. What makes a child ‘abused’ or what constitutes ‘endangering’ is a broad area and a gray area,” she said. “The wrong kind of spanking, yes, could be a crime in New Jersey,” she added. Courts in other states have also backed up parents who spanked their kids. A federal appeals court in California ruled last year that a woman who hit her 12-year-old daughter in the rear with a wooden spoon should not be labeled a child abuser. Another federal panel in Florida ruled that a single spank does not qualify as domestic violence. And the Minnesota Supreme Court cleared a father who hit his 12-year-old son 36 times on the upper thighs with a wooden paddle, ruling that spanking isn’t necessarily abuse. Child abuse or an acceptable form of discipline. What’s your stand on spanking?