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In re Guardianship of B.C.H.

Decided: February 17, 1970.


Kilkenny, Labrecque and Leonard. The opinion of the court was delivered by Leonard, J.A.D.


This is a proceeding for guardianship instituted by the Bureau of Children's Services (Bureau) pursuant to N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15(c). Defendants, parents of the child, appeal from a judgment of commitment, dated May 2, 1969. This judgment committed the child to the guardianship of the Bureau, terminated the parental rights between the child and defendants for all purposes, and gave the right to the Bureau, as guardian, to consent to the adoption of the child.

Defendants were married on February 6, 1967 and the infant was born on February 7, 1968. Defendants, father and mother, are presently 22 and 20 years of age, respectively.

The events leading to this litigation began on or about March 17, 1968. On that day the parents took the child to the Raritan Valley Hospital where it was discovered that he had fractures on both sides of his skull, the one on the left side pre-existing the one on the right. The parents gave several varying accounts of the injuries to Captain Kulpak of the Middlesex Borough police, who learned of the event from the county prosecutor's office. At first, they stated that the child fell out of a chair to cause one fracture and then

three weeks later fell against the side of the crib. Finally, the parents told him their present version that the mother had the child in her arms and as she bent over to get a bottle from the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, the baby's head struck the side of the gas range. The father came into the room and asked what happened, became angry, and tried to hit his wife who dodged the blow and he hit the baby on the other side of the head.

Captain Kulpak contacted the Bureau. When the child was discharged from the hospital the Bureau, at the parents' request, provided supervisory service in the parents' home. Thereafter, suspecting child abuse, the Bureau prevailed upon the parents, on May 3, 1968, to sign a written authorization to place the child in foster care. Such a placement was made. However, on November 20, 1968, at the conclusion of a visitation at the Bureau office, defendants physically took the child with them and revoked their previous consent.

On the same date the Bureau filed a petition for guardianship under N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15(c) and also an application under N.J.S.A. 30:4C-17 for an interlocutory order of commitment. An appropriate interlocutory order was entered and the child was returned to a foster home where he has remained.

The trial commenced on January 2, 1969. Only Dr. James Starrels, Director of Psychotherapy at the New Jersey Psychiatric Institute, testified on that day. The matter was continued from time to time until May 2, 1969, when the remaining witnesses testified and the matter was concluded. The court awarded guardianship of the child to the Bureau. Defendants moved for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, following the denial of which they appealed. Pending appeal the trial court entered a stay of that portion of the judgment which permitted the Bureau to place the child for adoption.

Defendants first contend that the adjournment of the final hearing for more than 90 days without their consent was contrary to the express provisions of N.J.S.A. 30:4C-19.

Therefore, they urge that the Bureau lost its power to proceed and the court ceased to have jurisdiction to terminate parental rights. N.J.S.A. 30:4C-19 provides, "Adjournment of any hearing on a petition filed under section fifteen hereof shall not exceed a total period of ninety days."

The matter was adjourned from January 2, 1969, with the consent of defendants and the Bureau, because it appeared to the court that more time would be required for the hearing than had been originally planned. The matter was subsequently relisted for February 20, February 21 and March 14. It was finally heard on May 2, 1969, 120 days after the initial hearing. Although the record does not disclose that defendants consented to the last three adjournments, it does show that defendants' trial counsel was advised of each and voiced no objection. As a matter of fact, defendants did not raise this point below until April 21, 1969 when they served notice upon the ...

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