Is Spanking With a Sandal or Spoon Child Abuse?

Overview: A hot topic in California law is a parent’s right to spank his or her children, and new cases come out of the courts every few months clarifying when a parent may use corporal punishment, like spank with the palm of a hand, a spoon or in our case in this week’s Law Review, spank with a sandal; bottom line don’t spank your kids with anything other than at most your palm.

We are writing about another California child-spanking case because it’s my guess spanking is not uncommon in our community, yet California takes a dim view of spanking especially with something other than the palm of the parent’s hand. You could lose your parental rights or be charged with a crime, so heads up.

Spanking with a Sandal

Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services received a call in May 2014 that Jessica G. (mother) was yelling and beating her two children.

The Department’s investigation revealed that the mother admitted she would discipline her children by making them do chores, scolding them verbally, denying them privileges such as watching TV and threatening to spank them. On “rare” occasions, she would spank her children on the buttocks with her bare hand or with a sandal. The Department’s investigators observed no marks or bruises.

In the end, the Department asked the Juvenile Court to assert dependency jurisdiction over the youngsters. The Juvenile Court took the children from the mother finding that she had spanked the children on “repeat occasions,” reasoning that “hitting children with shoes is not a proper form of discipline, and it’s physical abuse.” Jessica G appealed the Juvenile Court ruling.

 Porter’s Childhood Neighborhood

In our neighborhood in Del Paso Heights, Sacramento, spanking was the discipline du jour. I dare say that all of the neighbor kids were spanked, some with coat hangars and belts, often repeatedly. I saw the welts myself. When my friends’ fathers drank, some had a tendency to get mean.

It’s a new world out there folks. The harsh physical discipline in the Laca and McCoy homes 60 years ago would today land dads in jail.

Limits of Parental Discipline

Parents may lose jurisdiction of their minor children “if there is a substantial risk they may cause serious physical harm.” Under the law, serious physical harm does not include “reasonable and age-appropriate spanking to the buttocks where there is no evidence of serious physical injury.” Section 300 Welfare and Institutions Code. Court cases say “a parent has a right to reasonably discipline his or her child and may administer reasonable punishment.”

“Whether a parent’s use of discipline on a particular occasion falls within (or instead exceeds) the scope of this parental right to discipline turns on three considerations:   (1) whether the parent’s conduct is genuinely disciplinary; (2) whether the punishment is ‘necessary’ (that is, whether the discipline was ‘warranted by the circumstances’); and (3) ‘whether the amount of punishment was reasonable or excessive’.”

Improper Discipline

The Court of Appeal in this case cited many examples of parental discipline exceeding legal limits: parent hit her three-year-old on the stomach with a belt causing deep bruises; parent hit her son with a belt and an electric cord 21 times; parent punished his daughter by hitting her with an iron pipe on the leg hard enough to cause long-lasting marks; hitting a child with a broom on the stomach causing long-lasting marks; and parent repeatedly spraying child with cold water, pulling hair and using ice packs.

Wooden Spoon Case

The Court of Appeal cited the wooden spoon case which we wrote about in October, 2013 where given all of the circumstances a mother’s conviction of child abuse was set aside, with the court writing: “We cannot say that the use of a wooden spoon to administer a spanking necessarily exceeds the bounds of reasonable parental discipline.”

Ruling on Spanking with a Sandal

The Court of Appeal sent the Jessica G. matter back to the Juvenile Court to consider the evidence relevant to the “genuineness of mother’s disciplinary motive, the necessity of her punishment or the reasonableness of its severity.”

The ultimate decision is still unknown. Point being, spanking with a sandal could be grounds to lose your child. Pay heed.

Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. Jim’s practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOA’s, contracts, personal injury, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at or  

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The content contained and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author. This blog contains content and opinions concerning the law generally, and is not intended to constitute legal advice or to create any attorney‑client relationship with the reader. The reader should consult with an attorney about any specific legal issues prior to embarking on any course of action or inaction involving legal matters.