Is Spanking Legal? 

This is something that many parents wonder, but because it can be a difficult and a sometimes delicate subject to discuss with others, people are often reluctant to ask around. As a result, a great many people are uninformed about Michigan's spanking laws.


The answer, however, is simple. Spanking is legal in Michigan, but there are some facts that parents need to take into account when choosing this form of discipline for their children.

Spanking, in and of itself, is not considered to be child abuse in Michigan. However, all forms of physical discipline, including corporal punishment, can rise to the level of abuse if parents are not cautious and exercise good judgment.


When Does Spanking Become Abuse?

Michigan law defines child abuse as, "harm or threatened harm to a child’s health or welfare that occurs through non-accidental physical or mental injury, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, or maltreatment.” MCL § 722.622. Because of this definition, corporal punishment can be construed as child abuse if it is extreme enough to cause, or threaten, harm to the child.


Courts use a variety of different tests to determine whether corporal punishment has crossed the line into child abuse. Some factors that they may consider include: the age of the child, whether an implement such as a paddle or belt was used, and the frequency of corporal punishment.  

As a practical matter, the single most important factor is probably whether the child in injured in some way.  A good general proposition is that spanking can be legal, but intentionally and even accidentally inflicted injuries are not.

The Problem with Spanking

Parents who choose to use corporal punishment are well within their rights, but should be aware of the potential difficulties it might cause, particularly if there is a custody dispute or a CPS investigation. While corporal punishment does not necessarily equal child abuse, it is often brought up in custody disputes, and is frequently a factor in how the courts assign custody.


CPS officials in Michigan generally take a dim view of spanking. Examples of this can be seen in the agreements that Foster parents in Michigan must sign, agreeing not to use corporal punishment of any kind.  Parents who find themselves in court defending a neglect-abuse petition are often instructed not to use physical discipline.  Parenting classes, which are mandatory in most cases, stress alternate forms of discipline and methods of reinforcing positive behavior while discouraging negative behavior.


Investigations into child abuse can be devastating to your family, and may also result in criminal charges against you.  For this reason, many attorneys will advise clients not to use physical discipline when there is an ongoing custody battle or CPS investigation.

Alternatives to Spanking

Many studies have been conducted in recent years that show direct links to increased violence in children as they grow older, and also negative effects on cognitive and behavioral development in children. Long range studies, conducted over many years, have shown that children spanked at age 5 tend to show considerably more violent and aggressive tendencies as early as age 9.


Linked is the fact that spanking has not proven to have any developmental benefits or even advantages for the child. Certain studies have also found tenuous connections between childhood spanking, and anxiety disorders and alcohol abuse in adulthood.


Current parenting advice leans more towards talking with children by using reasoning and explanations instead of physical force. Punishments like time outs, increased chores, grounding (for older children), and restrictions on TV and other forms of entertainment are encouraged as alternatives to spanking.

Child Abuse Defense Attorneys

Because spanking is a rather controversial subject, and everyone has their own opinion on whether it's right or wrong, parents are encouraged to be judicious and careful in their discipline choices. If you choose to spank your children, which is within your legal rights as a parent in Michigan, be aware of the law and the state's opinion of your choices.


CPS and Police investigations are highly invasive, and often cause a great deal of trauma for a family. For this reason, it is important to have an experienced attorney who can help protect you and your family. At The Kronzek Firm, our attorneys focus on defending against child abuse allegations, and would be happy to provide you with a free initial consultation.


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