On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Gloucester County.
Bischoff, King and Polow. The opinion of the court was delivered by Bischoff, P.J.A.D.
This appeal involves the all too-common situation with divorced parents, where the custody of the child has been awarded to the natural mother and the new husband applies to adopt the child with the mother's consent but with objection by the natural father.
Raphael and Martha Gomez were married in 1974. From the marriage son Peter was born December 28, 1975. Shortly thereafter Raphael and Martha separated and were divorced November 16, 1978. Martha later married Jose Mercado. Peter has resided in the Mercado household since that marriage. On October 13, 1980 Jose filed a complaint seeking leave to adopt Peter. Raphael filed objections to the adoption and the matter proceeded to a hearing on the objections.
At the hearing conflicting testimony was presented on the nature and extent of Raphael's payment of support of Peter, his visitation of Peter and his reasons for any shortcomings in both respects.
The trial judge found there was a willful and continuous failure on the part of Raphael to exercise his parental obligations, which failure was likely to continue, and he entered an oral order terminating all of Raphael's parental rights. He withheld final action on the adoption complaint to permit an appeal to be taken. The natural father, Raphael Gomez, appeals.
We reverse for what we consider serious procedural irregularities.
N.J.S.A. 9:3-48 establishes the procedure to be followed upon the filing of a complaint for adoption where the child is not
received from an approved agency. In pertinent part that statute provides that upon receipt of the complaint, the court shall by its order
(2) Appoint an approved agency to make an investigation and submit a written report to the court concerning the facts and circumstances surrounding the surrender of custody by the child's parents and the placement of the child in the home of the plaintiff and an evaluation of the child and of the plaintiff and the spouse of the plaintiff if not the child's parent and if not a party to the action, provided, however, that whenever the plaintiff is a stepparent of the child, the court may dispense with the agency ...