What Constitutes Child Abuse Under NJ Child Abuse Laws?

By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. a NJ Domestic Violence Attorney

In a recent decision by the New Jersey Appellate Court, a judge determined that a child’s bruises, most of which were located on her buttocks, were not (what a Supreme court and the appellate courts in New Jersey have referred to as) vulnerable areas. In fact, getting a spanking on the rear end is customary…” Although the judge did “not condone corporal punishment, “he noted “that doesn’t mean that we label someone as an abusive parent, a label that will last for the rest of the parent’s life.” Accordingly, he found the punishment was not “extraordinary, unusual or excessive” as required for a finding of abuse and neglect under NJ law. The judge entered an order terminating the litigation and granted joint legal custody to K.T. and M.H. and physical custody to M.H. (K.T. and M.H. are substitute initials for the legal names of parties in a case to protect their identity).

The NJ Department of Youth appealed the trial court decision of an alleged child abuse. The Division argued K.T.’s conduct, in striking S.T. with a belt and leaving bruises on the child’s body and lacerations on her buttocks, constitutes excessive corporal punishment. The accused claimed that her actions fall within her constitutional right to use corporal punishment to discipline her child, and the record is barren of “any objective evidence that spanking her child, recklessly created a risk of serious injury to her.

The Appellate Division found that in its review of a trial court’s findings of fact it is limited under law. Such findings are “binding on appeal when supported by adequate, substantial and credible evidence”. “Deference to a trial court’s fact findings is especially appropriate when the evidence is largely testimonial and involves questions of credibility”. “Because a trial court hears the case, sees and observes the witnesses, and hears them testify, it has a better perspective than a reviewing court in evaluating the veracity of witnesses. Hence, we will not disturb the “factual findings and legal conclusions of the trial judge unless we are convinced that they are as manifestly unsupported by or inconsistent with the competent, relevant, and reasonably credible evidence as to offend the interest of justice.

Here, the facts were largely undisputed. It is of no consequence whether K.T. told the child to lie or whether the child had to correctly spell “sorry” to permit the spanking to stop. It is also undisputed that the child had bruises on her arms, thighs, and buttocks and lacerations on her buttocks seven days after her mother used a belt on her. The issue before this court is whether the trial judge properly applied the governing law to the facts.

“The Legislature charged the Division with the responsibility of protecting the health and welfare of the children of this state. Child abuse and neglect proceedings initiated by the Division are governed by NJ law. The safety of children is to be of paramount concern and allows DYFUS to immediately remove a child from the parent’s care if there exists an “imminent danger to the child’s life, safety or health.

Contact me personally today to discuss your New Jersey domestic violence matter. I am easy to talk to, very approachable and can offer you practical, legal ways to handle your concerns. You can reach me toll free at (855) 376-5291 or e-mail me at fniemann@hnlawfirm.com.