I ask fathers right off the bat if they spank their children. If they say yes, I tell them to knock it off. Most accept my advice. Whenever I write anything against spanking, I get flooded by bible quotes and stories about how a “good lickin’” never did any kid any harm. The thought process is straightforward: I was spanked; I turned out okay, so I’ll spank my kids.
Where I practice law (Ohio), spanking is legal provided that it is “proper and reasonable.” I don’t care if it’s legal –Fathers in divorce and custody cases should never spank their children. Here are the top three reasons why.
Courts are “Psychologicalized”
Blame it on Oprah, but psychology is a cornerstone of American culture. Family courts have relied on the opinions of psychological experts for decades and that reliance is only increasing. The psychological community is against spanking. The American Academy of Pediatrics is against spanking. Oprah and Dr. Phil are against spanking.
Even in states like Ohio where spanking is legal, fathers who spank are starting off at a disadvantage: Ohio corporal punishment must be “proper and reasonable,” and what “proper and reasonable” means is whatever a Judge says is means on any given day. The legal decisions on what is proper and reasonable are conflicting and confusing. It all depends upon the circumstances, which may (or may not) include the child’s age and behavior, the place and severity of the punishment and even the child and parent’s demeanor during the punishment. If a parent over steps, there are serious criminal and civil consequences, including domestic violence orders on behalf of the child.
Why start having to prove that how you spank is “proper and reasonable” when you already have to overcome negative stereotypes, the stakes are high and the cost of litigation costs are higher still? It’s just not worth it.
Men are Vulnerable
Divorce and custody cases are some of the meanest in the legal industry. Some mothers (not all but some) will accuse the father of violence, rape and child abuse at the drop of a hat to ruin his relationship with the children or his life in general. Fathers belong to a class of people (men) who commit most of the violent crime in this country and there is usually a family component to that violence. Court use extreme caution in protecting children. Men are stronger than women and will be the first suspect if any bruises or marks are found on the child. A father who spanks, especially with a belt or paddle, will be in the horrible position of proving that his actions were reasonable and proper to the family law court, as well as also dealing with whatever additional legal cases the mother files.
I have never seen a father who regularly spanks his children end up with custody.
It’s Bad for Your Children
The scientific evidence is clear. Spanking does not change a child’s behavior in the long-term. Not only that, the scientific evidence is clear that children who are spanked are more prone to mental health problems and have worse relationships with the spanker. These are facts that many parents do not want to accept. Children whose parents are divorcing or fighting over custody are already facing many challenges. I have never heard anybody deny this reality. Why make it worse by sticking to an outdated, ineffective parenting method during the worst time in your child’s life?
One More Thought
Some fathers really are diehards and sincerely believe that it is their duty to spank their children. To these fathers, I say that, just while your legal case is happening, let your kids be brats and don’t spank. Once your rights as a father are protected, you are free to use whatever discipline method that is legal in your state.
I have never had a father go back to spanking after stopping during his legal case.