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Is it illegal to pop a child on the mouth for biting you?

Lake Mary, FL |

my son keep biting hisfather and i want to know if i can lightly smack his mouth.

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Attorney answers 4


No. You dont say how old he is. Is he teething? You are better off explaining why this is not good if he is old enough. It is never OK to hit a child if you are an adult. Figure out a way to impose sanctions, time out, etc. that will have the same impact. Do not pop the child in the mouth.

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Corporeal punishment does not violate Florida law. Child abuse does violate Florida law. The difference is sometimes a thin line. A light smack is probably not child abuse, though, personally, I'd find a better way to discipline a child.

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The question of legally acceptable discipline by parents or caregivers is not always an easy one. Courts will apply the applicable law to the facts of the situation on a case by case basis.

It is best to err on the side of caution because of the potential for accusations or adjudications of child abuse from "popping a child in the mouth" or the like. To you- "lightly popping" your child on the mouth may seem innocuous, but it may be considered serious to the court or a Child Protective Investigator.

One parent I represented administered corporal punishment to his 14 year old minor child after the child had acted out sexually toward another child and had also broken and entered into a neighbor's home and had stolen certain items. My client's position was that he, "tore up his son's butt because he needed to understand that he can't do those things". My client left bruises on the child which was considered abuse under both Chapter 39 and the applicable criminal statutes for aggravated child abuse/child battery.

Chapter 39 of the Florida statutes defines child abuse as follows:
(2) “Abuse” means any willful act or threatened act that results in any physical, mental, or sexual abuse, injury, or harm that causes or is likely to cause the child’s physical, mental, or emotional health to be significantly impaired. Abuse of a child includes acts or omissions. Corporal discipline of a child by a parent or legal custodian for disciplinary purposes does not in itself constitute abuse when it does not result in harm to the child.

As you can imagine from reviewing the above statute- in conjunction with any evidence/testimony presented in court- courts not only have broad discretion but also a measure of angst while determining whether or not child abuse has occurred in a given situation.

Parental corporal punishment may be considered criminal in nature, as mentioned in the above example, so it is best to consider alternative disciplinary methods to corporal punishment.

Noteworthy is State v. McDonald, 785 So. 2d 640 (Florida 2nd DCA 2001).

"We recognize that drawing a line between prohibited child abuse and permissible corporal punishment, administered by parents who believe in this form of discipline, is not an easy task. In a state where the common law of crime has been supplanted in large part by statutory law, see State v. Adams, 683 So. 2d 517 (Fla. 2d DCA 1996), section 775.01, Florida Statutes (1999), this difficult task is principally a legislative function. We confess, however, that the present statutory scheme gives us pause in two respects. First, the offense in section 827.03(1) prohibits an intentional act that could reasonably be expected to result in physical or mental injury to a child. Relying exclusively on this language, when the charged conduct involves excessive discipline by a parent, we have difficulty distinguishing between the misdemeanor described in section 827.04 and this third-degree felony.

Second, we are concerned that an offense of contributing to the dependency of a minor, at least if the offense applies to parents, may adversely affect civil dependency proceedings. Under chapter 39, it is often useful to obtain a rapid admission of dependency from the parents and gain their cooperation in order for the dependency proceeding to serve as a method to give immediate help to the family. If the parental act that justifies dependency is also a criminal act, the consequences of such an admission may be more serious.

The Department of Children and Families may be compelled to litigate more dependency cases, may find the parents less cooperative, and may be forced to defer assistance to the families if these cases become quasi- criminal proceedings. This policy concern, however, is a matter for the legislature.

Whether the corporal punishment of the child in this case was excessive such that it became the crime of child abuse is a question of fact, not capable of resolution at this time.


It depends on if your definition of "lightly smack his mouth" would match the courts definition of abuse.
It would be better to deal with it in a different matter.

The answer given does not imply that an attorney-client relationship has been established and your best course of action is to have legal representation in this matter.