What are New York's laws on the use of corporal punishment by parents?

Understanding New York's Stance on Corporal Punishment by Parents

In New York, corporal punishment by parents, which refers to the use of physical force with the intention of causing a child to experience pain, but not injury, for the purpose of correction or control of the child's behavior, is a topic that has been subject to significant debate and scrutiny. While some forms of physical discipline are legally permissible, the state has specific regulations and limits in place to protect children from abuse.

Legal Framework Governing Corporal Punishment

New York law acknowledges parents' right to discipline their children and does not outright ban corporal punishment. However, the state distinguishes between reasonable disciplinary measures and actions that cross into the territory of child abuse. According to New York's Family Court Act and Social Services Law, parents may use physical force if it is deemed 'reasonable and appropriate' under the circumstances and not excessive.

The pivotal case of People v. Epps in 1989 further clarified the legal boundaries for corporal punishment in New York. The court held that a parent's right to discipline their child by reasonable force is protected, provided it does not create a substantial risk of causing death, serious physical injury, or disfigurement.

What is Considered 'Reasonable'?

Determining what constitutes 'reasonable' corporal punishment can be subjective and often depends on the facts specific to each case. Factors that courts may consider include:

Punishments that typically fall outside the scope of 'reasonable' include those that involve implements (such as belts or sticks), cause bruises or welts, or are inflicted on vulnerable parts of a child’s body.

Child Protective Services (CPS) Involvement

If an allegation of excessive corporal punishment arises, Child Protective Services (CPS) may intervene. CPS investigates reports of suspected child abuse or maltreatment. When investigating such claims, CPS considers both the severity of the alleged incident and whether there is a pattern of abusive behavior.

A finding against a parent can lead to severe consequences, including loss of custody or criminal charges. It is crucial for parents to understand that while New York permits some leeway in disciplining children physically, any punishment that potentially harms a child physically or mentally could trigger legal action.

Alternatives to Corporal Punishment

In light of the potential legal implications and growing evidence about the harmful effects of corporal punishment on children's development, many advocacy groups recommend alternative disciplinary methods. These alternatives focus on positive reinforcement, time-outs, loss of privileges, and consistent parent-child communication.


In summary, while New York allows parents some latitude in physically disciplining their children, there are clear limits designed to prevent abuse. Any corporal punishment must be reasonable and not risk significant harm to the child. As societal norms continue to evolve, New York parents are encouraged to consider alternative disciplinary methods that foster a safe and supportive environment for children's growth.