New Jersey Supreme Court Applies Common Sense in Child Abuse Case

A lower court finding of abuse and neglect was recently overturned in the case of a New Jersey stepmother who occasionally slapped and regularly garnished the wages of her 16-year-old stepdaughter to pay the bills. Writing for the Court, Justice Jaynee LaVecchia noted, “The parental decisions made within this family unit may not have been exemplars of stellar parenting, but they need not rise to the level of Title Nine violations.” In issuing its opinion, the highest court in New Jersey is sending a clear message to judges throughout the state: allow parents to raise their children.

Defendant, stepmother, occasionally slapped her stepdaughter across the face, primarily because of sexual activity. It is reported that she also took $50 a month from the teen’s paycheck to help pay the family’s utility bills.

These actions do not rise to the level of abuse and neglect, and requiring a teenage child to contribute to the household expenses is not a reason for removing the child from the home. Justice Jaynee LaVecchia said, “A slap in the face of a teenager as a form of discipline—with no resulting bruising or marks—does not constitute ‘excessive’ corporal punishment within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21(c)(4)(b).”

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