What is “reasonable parental discipline” in Indiana?

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Those of us who grew up decades ago may recall that physical discipline of your children was more commonly accepted than it is today. You may hear that, if you use physical discipline against your children, you can be charged with “Battery on a Child”. Some parents go by the old standard of “if it doesn’t leave a mark”. In Indiana, it is recognized that there is a defense to this charge called “reasonable parental discipline”. While this isn’t specifically mentioned in the Indiana Code, it is recognized by the Indiana Courts.  So, the question is, what is reasonable?

In 2008, a Court of Appeals opinion was issued in Willis v. State, that lays out the factors the court looks to in order to determine whether the parental discipline was “reasonable”.

  1. Whether the actor is a parent;
  2. The age, sex, and physical and mental condition of the child;
  3. The nature of the offense and the disciplinarian’s apparent motive;
  4. The influence of the disciplinarian’s example upon other children of the same family or group;
  5. Whether the force or confinement is reasonably necessary and appropriate to compel disobedience to a proper command;
  6. Whether it is disproportionate to the offense, unnecessarily degrading, or likely to cause serious or permanent harm;

The Court clarifies that this is not an exhaustive list and that there may be other factors unique to a particular case that should be taken into consideration. The core of the court’s discussion in that case is basically a weighing of “does the punishment fit the crime”. In that case, the child has stolen property of another person and lied about it. The child had previously been caught stealing and was grounded, but clearly that didn’t work as the child stole again. This time, the parent tried to talk to the child several times over the course of the weekend and child continued to lie about it. At that point, after much consideration, the parent administered five to seven swats of a belt on the buttocks of the child.

The Court determined that this defense is to be treated in the same way as a self-defense claim. That is, it is the State’s obligation to not only prove that this happened, but also to disprove the Defendant’s claim that the discipline was reasonable. The State has to prove that it was unreasonable. In the Court of Appeals case I have been discussing, the Court found that the State failed to do that.

These can be difficult cases for attorneys to give strong legal advice on. What is “reasonable” is going to be up to the judge or jury to decide. This requires knowing the judge or the jury, and their opinions on child discipline. No matter what people tell you, Indiana allows you to use physical discipline on your child, as long as it doesn’t go overboard. If you’re charged with battery on a child for disciplining your own child, please call the Indianapolis domestic violence attorneys at Banks and Brower (317) 870-0019 or email info@banksbrower.com as we would be happy to help you with your case.