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Can I Go to Prison for Spanking My Child?


One aspect of parents getting divorced can sometimes involve disagreements over what is the proper way to punish a child for disciplinary purposes. As a result, the issue of corporal discipline, and at what point it turns into child abuse that is prosecuted as a criminal offense, can actually be quite confusing and complicated, as the courts – including the US Supreme Court – have historically allowed parents the fundamental right to raise their child as they see fit, which includes the ability to use physical methods to discipline up to a certain point.

Florida permits spanking (i.e. corporal discipline or punishment) unless it results in actual “harm.” Specifically, Florida’s law on “proceedings relating to children” states that “corporal discipline of a child by a parent or legal custodian for disciplinary purposes does not in itself constitute abuse when it does not result in harm to the child.” However, the state also has stringent laws against child abuse and domestic violence, where abuse includes physical or mental harm that not only causes, but is likely to cause the child’s emotional, mental, or physical health to be sufficiently impaired. This could place parents and legal guardians at risk of criminal prosecution, as more and more “experts” release findings that corporal punishment places children at risk for poor mental health and long term harm and inflicting corporal punishment early on is tied to domestic abuse later on, leaving a number of questions remaining over what is and is not OK.

When Does Discipline Turn into “Harm” Under Florida Law?

Harm to a child’s health or welfare (i.e. “child abuse” under Florida law) can occur when emotional, mental, or physical injury is inflicted upon a child, taking into account the child’s age, any prior history of injuries, the location of the injury, prior history of injuries, and any trauma inflicted. These injuries can include willful acts and corporal discipline which may be considered abusive or excessive if they result in any of the following (or similar) injuries:

  • Asphyxiation, drowning, or suffocation
  • Bone or skull fractures
  • Brain or spinal cord damage
  • Burns or scalding
  • Cuts, bites, lacerations, punctures, etc.
  • Injuries resulting from using a deadly weapon
  • Intracranial hemorrhage or injury to other organs
  • Permanent or temporary disfigurement, impairment or loss of a body part or function
  • Significant bruises or welts
  • Sprain, cartilage damage, dislocations

Or conduct:

  • Allowing, encouraging, or forcing the sexual exploitation of a child, which includes forcing the child to engage in prostitution, be exploited, as well as abandoning, neglecting (with certain exceptions made for parents and legal guardians who withhold certain medical procedures due to religious beliefs), or exposing them to alcohol or a controlled substance
  • Committing or allowing lascivious or lewd acts or sexual battery to be committed against the child

As a result, going beyond a certain point can result in a parent facing criminal charges for child abuse, as, under Florida law, it not only includes willful actions, but also culpable negligence that causes bodily harm or permanent disability or disfigurement to a child.

If You Have Any Questions or Concerns About Disciplining Your Child & Punishment in Florida, Contact Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Jose Baez

If you have any questions or concerns about potential criminal charges in connection with the right to discipline a child in Florida, contact the Orlando criminal defense attorneys at The Baez Law Firm today to find out how we can provide you with guidance and assistance.



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