Submitted February 11, 1998
Before Judges Baime, Brochin and Wefing.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Baime, P.j.a.d.
The opinion of the court was delivered by
This appeal is from a judgment terminating T.S.'s parental rights to his natural daughter, M.R. Although phrased in a variety of ways, T.S. contends that the Family Part's findings relating to parental unfitness were not supported by clear and convincing evidence. We disagree.
We need not describe the procedural history in detail. T.S. and J.H. are the unmarried birth parents of M.R., who was born on August 11, 1994. After J.H. expressed her willingness to surrender her parental rights to M.R., the prospective adoptive parents filed a complaint for adoption. T.S. filed an objection to the adoption. His parents moved to intervene. Following the denial of their motion for intervention, T.S.'s parents filed an emergent appeal. We ordered the Family Part to proceed with a hearing respecting whether T.S.'s parental rights could be terminated over his objection. We directed that T.S.'s parents be afforded an opportunity to renew their application for intervention before consideration of other substantive issues relevant to custody, guardianship or adoption. Following a protracted hearing, the Family Part entered a judgment terminating T.S.'s parental rights. T.S. appealed. We now affirm.
The essential facts are not in dispute. T.S. and J.H. met in June of 1993. In December of that year, J.H. learned she was pregnant and so advised T.S. Although T.S. expressed interest in the prospect of becoming a father, he was heavily addicted to synthetic heroin, cocaine, marijuana and alcohol and was unemployed. T.S.'s problems with narcotics had begun in his early teenage years, and despite J.H.'s repeated entreaties, continued throughout their relationship. Moreover, T.S. had a substantial criminal record, having been convicted of several armed robberies and weapons offenses.
In February 1994, T.S. was incarcerated in the county jail. As a condition of his release, T.S. entered a drug treatment program. T.S. admitted to J.H. that he continued to use drugs while in that program, and that he found a way to circumvent the drug tests that were administered. After his completion of the rehabilitation program, T.S. was briefly employed, but used the money he earned to purchase drugs and was fired. We add that T.S.'s employment history can fairly be characterized as negligible. T.S. was fired from six different jobs within a seven month period. T.S. never set aside any money for his daughter. Although J.H. worked until June of 1994, she ultimately found it necessary to receive welfare.
J.H. went into labor on August 10, 1994. Although T.S. agreed to drive J.H. to the hospital, he did not appear and was not present when the baby was born. He admitted the reason he was not present was because he was taking drugs. We note that the weekend before J.H. went into labor, T.S. had borrowed her car, but had never returned it. After the baby was born, the automobile was recovered, but it had been totally destroyed. J.H. and the baby resided with J.H.'s parents. When her parents were away, J.H. invited T.S. to spend a weekend with her in order to establish a relationship between him and the baby. When J.H. awoke the next morning, T.S. had left the house with her father's automobile in order to purchase drugs.
In September 1994, T.S. was incarcerated for a parole violation. Although professing to seek rehabilitation, T.S. chose to go to prison when offered the opportunity to enter a work therapy program. While incarcerated, T.S. repeatedly requested J.H. to visit him with their daughter. J.H. acceded to T.S.'s request on one occasion, but otherwise refused because she felt that the jail was not an appropriate atmosphere for child visitation. We digress to note that T.S. rarely sought to visit his daughter even when he was not incarcerated and able to do so. J.H. testified that M.R. did not recognize T.S. as her father.
While T.S. was in prison, J.H. decided to surrender her parental rights to M.R. Although T.S.'s parents had taken a keen interest in the child and had attended to her material needs, J.H. came to the conclusion that adoption was in the best interests of M.R. When she broached the subject, T.S. indicated in a letter that he would agree although he did not "want daughter to be raised by . . . strangers." Upon his release from prison, however, T.S. expressed his dissatisfaction with the planned adoption.
The problem became more complicated upon T.S.'s subsequent arrest for breaking into his parents' home and stealing his father's guns. T.S.'s relationship with his parents had long been strained and volatile. T.S. had worked for his father for brief periods, but his drug addiction precluded continued employment. Upon T.S.'s latest arrest for theft of the weapons, his parents obtained a domestic violence order prohibiting any contact. On December 9, 1996, T.S. pled guilty to third degree theft. He was incarcerated at the time this appeal was filed.
Dr. Arlene Bruskin conducted a psychological evaluation of T.S. at the Family Part's request. She testified that T.S. was not functionally competent to act as a parent. According to Dr. Bruskin, T.S.'s "history of oppositional behavior manifested in drug abuse, school problems, antisocial actions, and frequent job changes" disclosed an underlying immaturity that would prevent him from raising M.R. without substantial risk. In her interview with T.S., he appeared "angry, defensive, deficient in empathy and preoccupied with issues of dependency autonomy which relate to his self esteem." The "test data suggest" that T.S. "overestimates his abilities" and that "his independent judgment below average." The witness noted that T.S. intended to rely substantially on his parents' assistance if ultimately granted custody. She stressed, however, that T.S.'s volatile behavior would inevitably place him in conflict with his parents concerning issues of child care. Moreover, T.S.'s "unresolved emotional" problems would likely influence his discipline of M.R. as she matured. Dr. Bruskin added that T.S. was emotionally immature, his insight was poor, and his desire for stabilization solely through his own efforts appeared highly unrealistic.
The witness discounted the possibility that T.S. would improve if psychotherapy was provided. Dr. Bruskin noted that T.S. regarded psychotherapy as "witchcraft" and a "complete waste of time." T.S. confided to Dr. Bruskin that while in prison, he had attended several therapy sessions in order to "look good" and further his chance of parole. ...