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Spanking Standards in Child Custody in North Carolina

This blog is revised from a previous Ask Carolyn in the Rhino Times

Dear Carolyn:

I am a mother of girls ages six and ten. I am separated, and I have half custody. I work hard, and the girls sometimes create havoc. I spanked the six-year-old with a belt, just like my mother did me. My church belief is “spare the rod and spoil the child”. Child Protective Services showed up at my house to investigate. Should I be concerned?  ~Scared

Carolyn Answers….

Dear Scared,

Thank you for asking a tough inquiry, and one that is not easily answered since you do not say if the spanking left any welts or contusions. There has been relatively little legal guidance on physical punishment in North Carolina, but luckily the North Carolina Court of Appeals addressed physical punishment in December 2014. In this case, the Court of Appeals held that a spanking with a belt that left a child discolored the next day was abuse. The mother punished him five times with a belt causing bruising on the child’s body. The Court of Appeals upheld that the mother’s punishment rose to the level of “cruel or grossly inappropriate”, which is the legal standard. The precedent is In the Matter of H.H. and R.H. The case occurred in Polk County, North Carolina.

Is spanking (sometimes referred to as physical or corporal punishment) lawful in North Carolina? In footnote one in H.H., “this Court has never held that corporal punishment of a child constitutes abuse per se under any subsection of 7B-101(1)”. The Court of Appeals further says each case turns on the “analysis of the specifics of the case”.

A person can even be criminally charged with the crime of child abuse for physical punishment. In 2014, a Jacksonville, North Carolina man was criminally charged with child abuse for physically punishing a 9-year-old girl multiples times on her hands, back, and buttocks with a belt and a paddle made of wood. The criminal warrants indicated that the punishment resulted in several caused severe cuts or abrasions.

Then, of course, there is the high-profile case of the prosecution of the Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson on child abuse charges, see www.breitbart.com/sports/2014/09/12/adrian-peterson-indicted/. Peterson was indicted for spanking/hitting his 4-year-old son with a tree branch. One of his defenses was that he received physical punishment as a child growing up in East Texas. The Peterson case ended with a plea deal that allowed him to avoid jail time. Peterson was initially put on a six-game suspension without pay as this was his first domestic violence offense. Later in November 2014 after the plea deal, he was suspended for the remainder of the 2014 season. The suspension withstood appeal, so the soonest he can be considered for reinstatement is April 15, 2015.

In every state, it is technically legal to spank as long as the force is “reasonable”. But, what is reasonable? This varies from place to place and may in some circumstances be left to a jury. Being in the position of a jury deciding is not a good place to be on this issue.

The real debate centers on what is the most effective discipline for children. To me, it must be age appropriate and the child must be both safe and must associate the consequences with the inappropriate conduct. The American Academy of Pediatrics is a good source of guidance, and that recognized organization has materials on the web discussing options such as “time out” and removal of privileges.

I think you should be concerned, particularly, if there are marks and bruises. Seek legal counsel in dealing with Social Services, particularly if there are bruises or marks of any kind. Study some other discipline options and try them; they will probably work better. Discuss these options with your children’s pediatrician or a psychologist.