When does hitting your child (intentionally or unintentionally) lead to legal problems? A question was asked on a legal bulletin board yesterday, and we responded with an explanation of DC law. This information is worth sharing on the blog, as it is a topic that has seen an upswing in recent months.

If a child was pushed to direct them in the room in which they were asked to to their chores and they slipped and hit their face on the carpet and caused rug burn, can a parent be charged for assault on a child or possibly lose custody of their child?

This matter is serious. In response to your question — yes, you can be charged with assault. Assault is the unwanted touching (or imminent threat of touching) of another without privilege and without consent. DC Code 22-404(a)(1) covers the charge, which carries a maximum sentence of 180 days. In your example above, you shoved or pushed the child. That would be sufficient to show a touching. The degree of the injury makes you look bad, but in fact, does not rise to the level of an aggravated assault, so is not entirely relevant to the charge (only the sentence). It is still a simple assault. To rise to the level of 22-404(a)(2), you would have to show serious injury or intent to cause the same.

The assault occurred when you shoved. I would be concerned about a DCPS investigation regarding treatment of the child in the home, as likely this was reported as a result of a teacher or some other individual seeing the rug burns or bruise on the face. Generally, when DCPS gets involved in a case like this, you can expect a safety plan, and the requirement that you attend parenting classes and anger management classes. There is a diversion program that avoids a formal finding of abuse, but still requires a safety plan. However, often you will need a lawyer to ensure that program is triggered.

In terms of custody, it would be entirely likely to see an opposing side (i.e. an ex partner or spouse) use this type of conduct to show the child is unsafe in the home, and move to have custody changed. The DC family law code governing custody determination is at DC Code 16-914. Specifically, the judge can find a “rebuttable” presumption (meaning that the assumption is against you, but you can still argue), if:

There shall be a rebuttable presumption that joint custody is not in the best interest of the child or children if a judicial officer finds by a preponderance of the evidence that an intrafamily offense as defined in § 16-1001(8), an instance of child abuse as defined in section 102 of the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect Act of 1977…

If DCPS finds there was a violation, and you are not placed in a diversion program, that constitutes child abuse/intrafamily violence, and will be used against you in court. Same effect if you have a criminal conviction for assault on your own child.

If you should be charged, or threatened with this, reach out to us to get help with this quickly. Mistakes made at the initial stage (i.e. you making statements to the investigator, or police) can be a critical problem down the road. Be very careful here.

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