[223 NJSuper Page 73] This is an adoption matter in which the natural father, defendant Dr. Kenneth Taylor, (hereinafter Dr. Taylor) objects to the adoption of his son, Philip Andrew Taylor (hereinafter
Philip) by Philip's maternal aunt Celeste Benigno-White and her husband Jefferson White (hereinafter Whites), the plaintiffs in this action.
On November 11, 1984, Dr. Taylor murdered his wife. Following a jury trial defendant was convicted of knowing or purposeful murder [ N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(1), (2)], and sentenced to the statutory term of life imprisonment with parole ineligibility for 30 years under N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3b. The conviction was upheld by the Appellate Division. State v. Taylor, A-924-85-T4 (Decided May 14, 1987). The Supreme Court denied certification on November 5, 1987.
On September 8, 9, 10 and 14, 1987, a preliminary hearing was held pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:3-48a(4)(b) to determine the status of the parental rights of Dr. Taylor. At the preliminary hearing the Whites proved that Philip's daily needs, including food, shelter, clothing and health care were satisfied by the Whites. The Whites further proved that Dr. Taylor had not contributed anything towards the daily support of Philip since 1984, and that his incarceration for a minimum of 30 years prevents him from rendering the daily support and care which the Whites are currently providing.
Dr. Taylor contends that the Whites frustrated his efforts to maintain contact with Philip. He testified that the Whites would not accept his phone calls and that the letters he sent to Philip were not answered. Thus, he contends the lack of communication between he and Philip was not his fault. Dr. Taylor is presently earning $30 per month which goes to support his personal needs. It is the contention of Dr. Taylor that he can be an effective parent from prison.
Dr. Taylor proved at the preliminary hearing that he turned over $13,000 to his parents shortly after his arrest to provide food, shelter and clothing for Philip. He further proved that he sent money from prison to his parents while Philip was in their custody for the purpose of purchasing gifts for Philip and that he personally made gifts for Philip while in prison. Defendant
also proved that he has maintained phone contact with Philip as often as he is permitted by the prison authorities since his incarceration.
The only issue to be decided at the preliminary hearing is whether the rights of the natural father, Dr. Taylor, should be terminated. The issue of whether the best interests of the child would be promoted by the adoption is not before the court in this preliminary hearing.
This court is extremely cognizant of the gravity of this proceeding and approaches the issue of the termination of Dr. Taylor's parental rights with extreme caution. As Justice Rehnquist noted in Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745, 787, 102 S. Ct. 1388, 1412, 71 L. Ed. 2d 599 (1982), "[f]ew consequences of judicial action are so grave as the severance of natural family ties. Even the convict committed to prison and thereby deprived of his physical liberty often retains the love and support of family members."
Similarly, New Jersey courts have been very reluctant to terminate the rights of natural parents. "A child's relationship with a parent is of such moment that all doubts are to be resolved against its destruction." In re Adoption of J., 139 N.J. Super. 533, 547 (Crahay, J., dissenting) (App.Div.1976), rev'd, 73 N.J. 68 (1977); see also A.L. v. P.A., 213 N.J. Super. 391, 396 (App.Div.1986); In re N., 96 N.J. Super. 415, 423 (App.Div.1967).
In a private non-agency adoption, as is presently before this court, "[a] natural parent may under N.J.S.A. 9:3-46a object to the adoption of his or her child at any time prior to the entry of judgment of adoption, even if the parent has given up ...