Tuesday, April 22, 2014

In Re Ashley F. (Cal. Ct. App. - April 22, 2014)

We all know that parenting in California in the modern era is not like parenting elsewhere in the "old days."  Particularly when it comes to the physical discipline of children.  There's no doubt that there's a variety of practices that were permissible and accepted in an earlier era that aren't similarly viewed today.

At the same time, although a number of people might say that even "spanking" children is no longer okay in California, that's simply not true.  Sure, there are a lot of people (myself included) who take a fairly dim view of physical discipline, and who don't practice it.  But, for better or worse, that's not the law.  You don't get your kids taken away merely because you spank them.

There's admittedly a fine line between what's legally "acceptable" physical discipline and what's not.  A line I can't precisely define.  Even after reading hundreds of these cases.  But there's nonetheless a line.  Or at least a spectrum.

I think that this opinion is a pretty good example of this contemporary reality.

Mother allegedly spanks-slash-hits her kids.  With a belt.  With a coat hanger.  With an extension cord.  DCFS investigates.  You can read the opinion for the type of pain/injuries that the kids incur.  It's not by any means the most extreme abuse imaginable.  But it's somewhat more -- at least if the mother's story is disbelieved -- than you usual "light spanking".

So what to do?

DCFS wants the kids taken out of the home.  The trial court agrees, and removes them.

The Court of Appeal reverses.  You can't just remove kids from their parents simply because they've been inappropriately disciplined.  At some level, the degree of abuse is sufficiently severe to permit removal.  But not here.  Or at least not on this record.

At the same time that it reverses, however, Justice Rothschild makes sure to conclude by saying that "nothing in this opinion should be construed as condoning Mother's physical abuse" of her kids.  A degree of abuse that almost undeniably would have not been labeled "abuse" in an earlier era.  Or, perhaps, even in the contemporary era in various communities (e.g., outside California).

Law and mores evolve.  We see that happen all the time.  Nowhere is it more clear to me than in the area of physical discipline of children.

This opinion is, to me, a definite product of its times.  It would be viewed very differently 50 years previously.  I bet it'll be viewed differently 50 years hence as well.