Abuse of Children Versus Discipline: When Is a Line Crossed?/Mental and Physical Abuse Charges

Abuse of Children Versus Discipline: When Is a Line Crossed?/Mental and Physical Abuse Charges

Parents have certain rights in regard to disciplining their children in Michigan. However, it can sometimes be difficult to understand where a parent’s rights end. At what point does disciplining a child become abuse?

Understanding the legal difference between disciplining children and abusing them is very important for any parent in Michigan. Without this knowledge, they could find themselves facing charges of physical or mental abuse of a child.

What Constitutes Child Abuse in Michigan?

Michigan law defines child abuse as “harm or threatened harm to a child’s health or welfare that occurs through nonaccidental physical or mental injury, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, or maltreatment.”

A parent isn’t the only one who can commit child abuse in Michigan. Per the law, others who may be guilty of child abuse are:

  • Legal guardians
  • Teachers
  • Teachers’ aides
  • Clergy members
  • Participants in youth programs when they’re over the age of 18
  • Any other adults responsible for a child’s health or welfare

Michigan Case Law Indicates Corporal Punishment May Qualify as Domestic Violence

The statute on the books isn’t the only potential law regarding the difference between child abuse and proper discipline in Michigan. Past cases can also establish the line past which discipline may become abuse.

For example, in the 2020 case of Brown v. Brown, the Michigan Court of Appeals determined that a father’s use of corporal punishment (that is, physical punishment meant to cause pain) to discipline his children qualified as domestic violence. Although the father claimed he believed he was disciplining his children in accordance with his religious beliefs, the court noted that, while parental rights are sacrosanct, “It has long been established that a parent may not administer excessive physical discipline, or physical discipline that actually harms a child, no matter what the parent might subjectively believe.”

This case involved a child custody dispute. However, it could establish a precedent for equating corporal punishment with domestic violence in future cases.

The Difference Between Abuse and Discipline of Children is Unclear in Michigan

There are no universal standards regarding when discipline becomes child abuse under the law. For example, in Michigan, it’s technically still legal to spank a child. The law allows parents to use “reasonable force” when physically disciplining their children. 

It’s not always clear when reasonable force becomes unreasonable. Generally, corporal punishment becomes child abuse when it causes harm or injury.

Determining when disciplining a child qualifies as abusing a child can be even more challenging when the alleged injuries are mental or emotional in nature. Because there is an inherently subjective quality to mental injuries, proving that they did or did not occur can be a matter open to debate.

Contact a Troy, MI, Child Abuse Defense Lawyer

Have you been accused of child abuse? If so, it’s important to enlist the help of a legal professional familiar with the complexities of the law. An attorney could help show you were engaging in legally permissible discipline of a child instead of abuse, depending on the specifics of your case.

The best way to learn more about potential defense strategies is to discuss your case with an attorney like the one at the Law Office of John Freeman. A Troy, MI, child abuse defense lawyer can protect you if you were exercising your legal rights as a parent. Learn more by contacting us online today.