Dear Carolyn:

Is it legal in North Carolina for a stepfather to hit a child when he’s been in their life for less than two years?


Carolyn Answers:

Hit is a powerful word. Hit denotes force and speed. A missile hit the target, for example. I would hope no one would hit a child. So now I will turn to the topic of discipline by a stepparent. If the other parent has authorized the stepparent to discipline the child, then reasonable age-appropriate disciple can be used, but that discipline cannot leave any bruises or marks. Many child psychologists disfavor physical punishment.

I have seen custody orders prohibit physical discipline by stepparents. I think your steps are to contact the other parent and state your position regarding the stepfather. You may also indicate that you will ask a judge to prohibit the conduct of physical discipline either altogether or by the stepparent. If your plea fails, you can consider whether you have a motion to file concerning the discipline (hit) with an attorney.

On the other hand, the crime of assault applies if the child has marks or bruises. You may want to consider taking pictures of the bruises and seeing the magistrate for a warrant. If there are bruises, call social services.



Send your questions on family law and divorce matters to “Ask Carolyn…” at, or P.O. Box 9023, Greensboro, NC  27427. Please do not put identifying information in your questions. Note that the answers in “Ask Carolyn” are intended to provide general legal information, and the answers are not specific legal advice for your situation. The column also uses hypothetical questions. A subtle fact in your unique case may determine the legal advice you need in your individual case. Also, please note that you are not creating an attorney-client relationship with Carolyn J. Woodruff by writing or having your question answered by “Ask Carolyn…”