With social norms changing by the day, are parents in Maine still allowed to discipline their children with physical force?

Under Maine law, the answer is yes, as long as it’s a “reasonable degree of force.”

Maine statute 17-A §106(1) states, “A parent, foster parent, guardian or other similar person responsible for the long term general care and welfare of a child is justified in using a reasonable degree of force against that child when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes it necessary to prevent or punish the child’s misconduct.”

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“Reasonable degree of force” is an objective standard. To constitute a reasonable degree of force, the physical force applied to the child may result in no more than transient discomfort or minor temporary marks on that child. M.R.S.A 17-A §106(2).

First, the parent or guardian needs to reasonably believe it necessary to use physical force.  A light spanking is much different than a slap across the face.  The reasonableness of the parent’s belief as to the necessity of force is measured by whether that belief grossly deviated from what a reasonable, prudent person would believe necessary under similar circumstances.  State v. York, 766 A.2d 570 (2001).

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Second, the force must only cause short-lived discomfort and minor temporary marks.  Again, a light spanking, as opposed to a slap across the face, will cause different degrees of pain and marks.  The parent must maintain reasonable control over the outcome or physical consequences to the child so that the force used is designed to prevent or punish misbehavior. Id.  Whether the marks and/or discomfort received by the child are minor and temporary is a very fact specific analysis.  Courts have found that bruising on the head that “lasted a ‘day or two’” and “miss[ing] school the following day” is enough for the State to prove that the force applied caused more than transient discomfort or minor temporary marks. State v. Treadway, 103 A. 3d 1026 (2014).

If you find yourself in a situation where you have been charged with Domestic Violence Assault, or Endangering the Welfare of a Child.

Contact Attorney Eric S. Thistle at the law offices of Irwin & Morris.

Attorney Thistle can be reached by email at ethistle@irwinmorris.com or by telephone (207) 274-3811.

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