Under the Queensland Criminal Code the act of physically striking a person is an assault and is punishable by fines and even imprisonment of up to seven (7) years in extreme cases.
Section 280 of the Code however, permits a parent or their proxy to use reasonable force in administrating correction or discipline of a child under their care.
In determining what is unreasonable however, authorities have historically been extraordinarily lenient. The modern day term “Rule of Thumb” is actually taken from ancient Rome, where striking a child with a rod no thicker than your thumb was considered acceptable. In one recent case, parents who tied their children in a shed with a dog chain, stung them with cattle prods, kicked them, beat them with belts and whips and forced them to smoke cigars and eat the butts were acquitted on charges of criminal assault, because the Court considered they genuinely believed endangering their children in this way was good for them.
When deciding where a child should live however, the Family Court of Australia is far less forgiving. Violence upon a child in a home is well understood to reach far beyond the children’s actual injuries to include the often more severe emotional harm of insecurity, fear, unhappiness, anxiety and hyper-vigilance. In assessing the suitability of a person to continue on in a parenting role, the Courts are well attuned to differentiating between that physical discipline which is necessary for a child’s welfare and that which crosses over the line into the realms of abuse.
Parents guilty of abuse towards children are usually denied rights of residence with the child. They may also face limitations on any time to be spent with the child, including prohibition on physical discipline and even supervision. In very serious cases, the Courts may even impose an absolute bar on the abusive parent spending time or communicating with the child in any way.
There is no definitive rule book on these things. Social Workers and Child Psychologists are best positioned to help with advice and strategies to keep families and parents out of trouble however, if trouble can’t be avoided, the below are some general guidelines to consider:-
- Physical discipline should never injure a child.
- Smacking should be restricted to the buttocks or the legs area.
- A belt or rod can be used, but keep it for the more severe things.
- The discipline should be controlled and never delivered in anger.
- Be clear, ahead of time, about the sorts of behaviour that will draw corporal punishment.
- Stay consistent in your household and maintain consistency with any other household where the children are raised.
- Avoid involving a step-parent in discipline if he/she does not have an equal level of trust from the other biological parent or the children.
Michael Zande is a Queensland Law Society accredited family law specialist with over 20 years experience in the field. He is the principal at Zande Law Solicitors, Suite 7, Norwinn Centre, 15 Discovery Drive, North Lakes to contact Michael for advice phone 3385 0999.
The information in this newsletter is merely a guide and is not a full explanation of the law. This firm cannot take responsibility for any action readers take based on this information. When making decisions that could affect your legal rights, please contact us for professional advice.