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Division of Youth and Family Services v. T.O.

August 30, 2007


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Monmouth County, FG-13-82-05.

Per curiam.



Submitted July 10, 2007

Before Judges R.B. Coleman and Sapp-Peterson.

This matter is before the court on an appeal by T.O. from a judgment of the Superior Court, Chancery Division, Family Part, entered on October 4, 2006, terminating his parental rights to his biological child A.Q.J., born July 12, 2002, and granting guardianship of A.Q.J. to the Division of Youth and Family Services (Division).*fn1 We affirm.

On the morning of September 10, 2002, T.O spoke with S.J, A.Q.J.'s biological mother, who asked T.O. to watch A.Q.J. that day. T.O. agreed to do so but fell asleep and did not hear S.J. when she arrived. S.J. left A.Q.J. on what she thought was T.O.'s porch, but it turned out to be a neighbor's porch. When T.O.'s neighbor found A.Q.J. on the porch, she contacted the local police, who took A.Q.J. to a nearby hospital, where hospital staff reported that he was in good condition.

T.O. learned that his son had been taken to the hospital after police came by his apartment with photographs of A.Q.J. seeking information. T.O. did not tell police that he was A.Q.J.'s father or go to the hospital because he had outstanding arrest warrants and "he didn't feel like going to jail."

However, T.O. contacted S.J. to tell her to go to the hospital to identify A.Q.J. in order to avoid legal consequences.

Police contacted the Division and A.Q.J. was placed in foster care. On September 11, 2002, the Division filed an Order to Show Cause and a Verified Complaint for the protection and best interests of A.Q.J. At that hearing, the court continued A.Q.J.'s foster placement. On September 16, 2002, the Division notified T.O. of the process which would lead to the Division obtaining legal custody of A.Q.J. T.O. appeared in court on September 26, 2002, the return date of the Division's order to show cause, at which time T.O., according to Division records, did not seek custody of A.Q.J.*fn2

On October 28, 2002, T.O. attended a pretrial conference during which the court ordered that T.O. undergo a psychological and substance abuse evaluation. T.O. refused to submit to a urine screen. He failed to appear for the December 16, 2002 hearing and, during this period, he also refused, for a second time, to undergo a urine screen. The court drew a negative inference and suspended T.O.'s visitation with A.Q.J. until he complied with the court-ordered evaluation. Thereafter, T.O. had no further contact with A.Q.J. for more than one year, nor did he attempt to comply with the court's orders by contacting the Division, which continued to send letters to him about the case. On August 20, 2004, T.O. made an unannounced visit to the

Division office. He expressed a desire to resume visitation with A.Q.J. and indicated his willingness to cooperate with the Division. On December 11, 2004, T.O. commenced serving a prison sentence arising out of his 2003 conviction for selling marijuana. He served a little more than eleven months. He did not correspond with the Division during this period.

On February 14, 2005, the Division filed an Order to Show Cause and Complaint for Guardianship, ordering S.J. and T.O. to show cause why the court should not enter an order terminating their parental rights to A.Q.J. and directing them to disclose to the Division any relatives they believed could potentially serve as caretakers for A.Q.J.

On May 11, 2005, a caseworker visited T.O at the Monmouth County Jail, where he was serving his sentence. T.O. acknowledged that he was not, at that time, able to care for A.Q.J. but provided the names of five relatives who he thought could serve as caretakers. Of the five persons T.O. identified, three were ruled out as potential caretakers because they did not respond to the Division's efforts to contact them. The fourth person, a relative, indicated that she was not interested in serving as A.Q.J.'s caretaker. The fifth person T.O. identified was his paramour. The Division's investigation revealed that she was interested in serving as a caretaker. At the time, however, she was unemployed, receiving welfare for T.O.'s three other children, and her home had limited space. She was therefore rejected as a caretaker.

The Division retained Dr. Chester Sigafoos to conduct a psychological and bonding evaluations. As a result of the psychological evaluation, Dr. Sigafoos concluded that

[T.O.] does not have the capacity to safely insure a child's welfare. He definitely shows the characteristics of an antisocial personality disorder. He also has histrionic traits in which he draws attention to himself, and that's one way ...

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