Spanking only abusive if there is proof of harm, Utah Supreme Court says

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Supreme Court has ruled that spanking children is only considered abusive if there is evidence of harm.

The court reversed a previous decision made by the juvenile court, which had the potential “to sweep non-abusive behavior into its net,” the ruling issued Wednesday states.

“Throwing a pillow or rolled up pair of socks” to a child or playfully hitting with a Nerf sword would be abusive under the juvenile court ruling, thus the decision had to be reversed, states the higher court.

The case was initially brought to the juvenile court in February 2016, after the oldest of four children in a family told child welfare officials that their mother had spanked them with a “black belt with rhinestones,” and that the father (a stepfather to the oldest two children), had also disciplined the kids with a belt.

The juvenile court ruled it abusive, saying “the court cannot envision a scenario where striking or hitting a child, of any age, would be appropriate or reasonable discipline.” It also ruled that while spanking or using a belt to discipline children may have been OK in the past, “as a society we’ve progressed to the point where it’s not acceptable.”

“The simple striking of the child with a belt caused pain and is abuse,” the juvenile court ruling states.

The parents appealed the ruling on the grounds that the court did not seek evidence of any harm caused by the parents’ disciplinary actions and could not possibly deem it abusive without such evidence.

The higher court agreed, saying the juvenile court’s definition of abuse is “over broad.”

“It is unclear how hard the parents hit the children, whether the children suffered emotional or physical pain, and whether the children were injured,” the Utah Supreme Court ruling concluded.

The children, all under the age of 18, were removed from the home until a resolution could be brought.

Wendy Leonard

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