The New Jersey Supreme Court has just ruled that a stepmother, who slaps her teenage daughter and takes part of her wages to pay household bills, has not necessarily engaged in child abuse. In a unanimous 7-0 decision, the Supreme Court also found that the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services did not have sufficient evidence at the time to remove the teenager from the house of her stepmother and her father.
The incident occurred in 2008. According to the DYFS, the girl's grandfather reported the parents for taking some of the wages from her part-time job to pay cable bills and slapping her around. An inspection by the DYFS found that the house was without heating. The girl was removed from the house. Her father later told the DYFS that his wife had slapped the girl two years earlier, and he said some of the money from her part-time job was used to pay the family’s cable bill.
The Supreme Court has now found that, although the parents did not exhibit exemplary parenting qualities, their behavior was not serious or harsh enough to be considered child abuse or neglect. For instance, requiring a teenager to contribute part of her earnings toward paying household bills does not constitute abuse or neglect. Even an occasional slap does not come under the laws prohibiting corporal punishment. (Corporal punishment or hitting children is not recommended. However, outcomes in such cases are fact specific, as this ruling shows, and a good criminal attorney is essential to getting the best outcome. A conviction for child abuse can have a serious impact on one’s job and future employment.)
The Supreme Court also said that most of the allegations made, including that there was no heating in the house, were linked to the family’s severe financial difficulties. New Jersey criminal defense lawyers would agree. All that the family here needed was a little financial help, and maybe some counseling.