When Does the Washington Court Consider Discipline as Abuse?

The Washington State court may consider some forms of discipline as abuse. Here’s when discipline becomes abuse in Washington.

In Washington State, parents or guardians cannot physically discipline the child they are responsible for to a certain extent. If the Washington court finds a parent’s use of physical discipline as severe or unreasonable, the court may consider it child abuse.

Washington Child Abuse Laws

The Washington State court has laws outlining what may constitute child abuse or child neglect. In Washington State, abusing or neglecting a child is illegal and may result in jail time or a parent losing custody of all children.

The Washington State court defines child abuse or neglect as acts causing harm to the child’s health, welfare, or safety.

Related: New York Child Abuse Laws

In Washington, examples of child abuse may include:

  • Sexual abuse
  • Sexual exploitation
  • Injury
  • Negligent treatment
  • Maltreatment

Anyone who sexually abuses, exploits, or injures a child may be guilty of child abuse or neglect in Washington. A person responsible for a child or providing care to a child who the Washington court finds is negligently treating or maltreating the child may be guilty of child abuse or neglect.

Discipline vs. Abuse in Washington

Some parents implement forms of corporal punishment as means of disciplining their children. Each state has its laws on child abuse which may legalize or illegalize a parent’s use of corporal punishment. In Washington, to a certain extent, physical abuse is not child abuse in some circumstances.

The Washington court provides that the physical discipline of a child is not unlawful if a parent, teacher, or guardian inflicts discipline reasonably and moderately to restrain or correct the child.

If any other person uses force on a child, the Washington court considers it unlawful unless the child’s parent or guardian authorizes discipline according to the law.

In Washington, unreasonable uses of physical discipline include:

  • Throwing a child
  • Kicking a child
  • Burning a child
  • Cutting a child
  • Striking a child with a closed fist
  • Shaking a child under three
  • Interfering with a child’s breathing
  • Threatening a child with a deadly weapon
  • Any act likely to cause, or does cause, bodily harm greater than transient pain or minor temporary marks to a child

Related: New York Child Support FAQs

While these are specific examples of physical discipline the Washington court considers illegal, the law specifies the given list is not exclusive. The Washington court will also consider the child’s age, size, and condition when determining whether bodily harm is reasonable or moderate.

FAQs About When Does Discipline Become Abuse in Washington?

Is it illegal to spank your child in Washington?

“Spanking” is a common form of physical discipline parents may implement on young children. If a parent’s use of spanking is reasonable and moderate, meaning a parent does not cause severe or lasting bodily harm to the child, it is not illegal to spank your child in Washington.

What is corporal punishment?

Corporal punishment is a method of discipline where a parent or person responsible for child-rearing inflicts pain on the child they are responsible for to correct misbehavior. If a parent uses corporal punishment moderately to discipline their child, the Washington court does not consider child abuse.

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