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Corporal Punishment and Physical Discipline of Children and Divorce, Custody & Parenting Time in Michigan

Posted by Cameron Goulding | Apr 16, 2020 | 0 Comments

The right to parent one's child is a constitutional right that the court's take very seriously.  However, if a parent chooses to use corporal punishment or physically discipline a child, that parent is taking certain risks.  I advise my client's against using corporal punishment with their child.  If they might be facing a divorce case, custody or parenting time issues and they have used it in the past, I advise them to immediately stop and take some parenting classes in preparation for the litigation.

Can Corporal Punishment or Physically Disciplining a Child Cause a Change of Custody or Parenting Time?

The recent case of Brown v Brown, addressed this issue in the context of divorce and domestic violence.  In that case, the divorce court found that the father's use of corporal punishment as a disciplinary method constituted domestic violence.  While the father maintained that he acted in the best interests of the children based upon his religious beliefs, both the trial court and the Michigan Court of Appeals found that his physical discipline of the children constituted domestic violence, and domestic violence is a factor that can form the basis for a change of custody or parenting time.

The court stated that however sacrosanct parental rights may be, they do not extend to abusing one's children.  The state's interest in protecting children from harm outweighs any religious beliefs regarding the propriety of corporal punishment.  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.  It concluded that the divorce trial court properly considered the father's use of corporal punishment to be domestic violence.  Domestic violence is a factor that must be explicitly considered in custody disputes. 

The father in this case had sole legal and physical custody before the mother brought the physical discipline of the children to the attention of the court.  After the hearings, the court severely limited the father's parenting time with the children. Therefore, the use of physical discipline is a bad idea of there is any potential of a divorce, legal separation or custody case.

This is not the only reason that I advise my client's against physical discipline when working with their kids.  The American Psychological Association has published many articles confirming that corporal punishment of children is not just a neutral issue where the potential benefits match the potential harm. The research from around the world confirms that corporal punishment is harmful and not beneficial to children. There is no upside beyond perhaps a short term pause in the child's behavior that led to the punishment, with serious negative long-term consequences.

Call Our Michigan Divorce Attorneys for More Information

If you have questions about custody, parenting time or divorce, it is best to discuss your situation with our Michigan divorce attorneys. Contact our office today. We will review your goals, needs, and legal options to help you determine how you should proceed.

About the Author

Cameron Goulding

A native of Oakland County, Michigan, family lawyer Cameron C. Goulding has been providing counseling and legal services of the highest caliber to individuals and families in Southeastern Michigan for over 24 years. Mr. Goulding grew up in Oakland County, Michigan and graduated from Birmingham G...


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