Can you Legally Spank your Children in Pennsylvania?

Our Commonwealth has long recognized the parental right to use corporal punishment.  This parental right is specifically protected by statute and specifies that the use of force on a minor is justified if that person is either the parent or guardian, or acting at the request of the parent or guardian, and the force used is used for the purpose of safeguarding or promoting the welfare of the minor, including the preventing or punishment of his misconduct.  The force used may not be designed to create a substantial risk of death, serious bodily injury, disfigurement, extreme pain or mental distress or gross degradation.   This parental right can often cause conflicts in custody cases and lead to CYS investigations, Protection from Abuse Petitions, and even criminal charges.

The court must carefully consider this protected parental right in the context of alleged abuse.  The Superior Court has reasoned, that if the exercise of corporal punishment were to be seen as violating the Protection from Abuse Act, then “a parent could exercise his or her ‘privilege’ only to suffer the rather inconsistently seeming consequence of losing custody of the child or being banished from his or her home.  This seems grossly illogical.”  Chronister ex rel. Morrison v. Brenneman, 742 A.2d. 190, 193 (Pa.Super. 1999).   That case involved a father who used a belt to discipline his daughter.  A protection from abuse petition was filed against Father and ultimately dismissed.

What should you do if you disagree with corporal punishment?

A disagreement regarding what type of discipline should be used is a legal custody issue.  Sometimes the best way to handle this disagreement between parents is through custody court system.   As with any custody matter, it must be considered in the context of the ‘best interest of the child’ standard.  A judge may order that physical discipline is prohibited when it is demonstrated to the judge that it is not in the children’s best interest to be physically disciplined.  If the child sustains injuries or severe bruising, you may want to contact Children and Youth Services, the police, or an attorney to discuss what can be done legally to prevent a parent from engaging in this type of discipline.