Spanking With Belt — Child Abuse?

Disciplining a child by spanking, I would guess the most common form of discipline when I was a kid, is in the news again. Star Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was suspended last week for spanking his 4-year-old son with a tree branch. In today’s world, that is serious business. Here’s a similar recent California case.

Spanking with Belt

On August 3, 2013, a neighbor reported hearing a child being hit or spanked. When Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies investigated the home of Josue E. (Father) and Karen E. (Mother) they found two-year old daughter A.E. (names withheld) had two five to six inch long red welts on the back of her leg and more red welts on her buttock. (Judges don’t write “butt.”)

Father admitted he struck A.E. with his belt because she was misbehaving. Mother was unaware of the belt spanking but had seen Father spank A.E. on the butt before with his bare hand.

Child Abuse

Father was arrested for child abuse and held in custody.

Father explained his frustrations in disciplining his young daughter. He told investigators that as a child he had been disciplined with a belt and thought that was the best way to discipline A.E.

The L. A. Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and a juvenile court judge disagreed and found Father guilty of child abuse. He was removed from the home. Father appealed.

Danger to Child?

Father contended the removal of A.E. from his custody was improper because he was not a substantial danger to his daughter.

In fact, as you would expect, it’s not easy to remove a child from the custody of his or her parent. Welfare and Institutions Code Section 361(c)(1) limits the ability of a juvenile court to remove a child from the physical custody of the parents. The court must find by “clear and convincing evidence” that “there is or would be a substantial danger to the physical health, safety, protection, or physical or emotional well being of the minor.”

There was abundant evidence that Father and Mother were good parents. There was no ongoing domestic violence, no substance abuse problems and no safety issues at the home. DCFS acknowledged the family was cooperative and motivated to solve the spanking matter. A.E. was healthy and comfortable in her parents’ presence.


The Court of Appeals overturned the juvenile court decision, finding there was no clear and convincing evidence that Father presented a risk of harm to his daughter A.E. He was allowed to move back into the family home.

In a 2013 case we summarized an Attorney General Opinion on corporal punishment: “It is not unlawful for a parent to spank a child for disciplinary purposes with an object other than the hand provided that the punishment is necessary and not excessive in relation to the individual circumstances.”

According to the 2013 court case, the reasonableness of a particular corporal punishment depends on four factors: (1) the age of the child, (2) the part of the body that was struck, (3) the instrument used to strike the child, and (4) the amount of damage inflicted. It is not child abuse if there is an “accidental injury.”

Lesson for Parents/Charles Barkley

I remember as a kid, several of our neighborhood friends were beaten by their dads with belts, coat hangers, wooden spoons or switches. I suspect sometimes associated with alcohol.

Parents who as children were disciplined with beatings, even severe, may honestly believe that is how you effectively discipline your children. Not so, not today. Not then either. At least the issue is drawing national attention.

Former basketball star Charles Barkley commented on Adrian Peterson’s case: “Whipping – we do that all the time” explaining corporal punishment is a common practice in the South.

Spanking a child with an object other than the hand, which if detected must be reported by health care providers, may result in a criminal charge of child abuse.

Adrian Peterson v. Ray Rice

That is a stiff penalty as Josue E. and Adrian Peterson learned the hard way. Right or wrong, I draw a distinction in degree between the Adrian Peterson incident and Baltimore Ravens star Ray Rice’s punching and knocking out, then callously dragging out of an elevator, his then fiancé. Comments welcome.

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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