Spare the rod; spoil the child is a Biblical axiom related to child rearing with the underlying premise being that strong discipline is necessary to raise unspoiled children. However, 21st-century child disciplinary mores have changed and corporal punishment can be a crucial issue in contested child custody cases, Orders of Protection matters, DCFS investigations, and sometimes even criminal allegations.
Generally, corporal punishment is a protected privacy right that parents have pursuant to the U.S. Constitution however Texas courts have held that it must be administered in a “reasonable manner.” And that’s what has become difficult to measure…what’s a “reasonable manner”? Because when we start talking about what is reasonable we’re clearly talking about something that is changing and evolving and difficult to define.
There have been a surprising number of Texas appellate court cases that have discussed parents’ use of corporal punishment but even the case law is difficult to assess because it’s not real-time current. There’s no clear, black/white dividing line on what is and is not acceptable use of corporal punishment in parenting, but here are some guidelines:
- Physical discipline should never be administered in anger
- The use of foreign objects like a belt or paddle is discouraged
- Any bruising or marking on a child that remains after the fact will be a problem
- Limited, spanking with the hand seems to be acceptable
However, with the above being said and supported by Texas court rulings over the last 20 years, within the domestic relations trial courts that we spend a great deal of our time today there is strong opposition to the use of any form of corporal punishment. I have heard more than one judge flatly state that he will not allow the use of any form of corporal punishment with children in child custody matters before him.
Further, many of the Child’s Representatives (attorneys for children in divorce/parentage cases) require language in parenting agreements/orders that corporal punishment is disallowed. We have been involved in cases where a parent’s visitation has been curtailed due to his use of corporal punishment and Orders of Protection have been entered banning all contact between parent/child due to what a judge thought was excessive corporal punishment.
What to do?
If your custody/visitation case is within the court system be very careful and conservative in your use of corporal punishment. Be prepared with a clear and reasoned description of its administration and benefits to your children. Frankly, you might consider discontinuing the use of corporal punishment while the case is ongoing.
If the opposing party uses corporal punishment against your children this fact can be used to your tactical advantage to win a child custody fight or to limit the other parent’s contact with your children.