On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Middlesex County, FG-12-93-06.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 2, 2007
Before Judges Coburn, Grall and Chambers.
Defendants J.J.O. and D.M.O., each represented by separate counsel, appeal from the judgment of guardianship entered on October 18, 2006, terminating their parental rights to A.D.O., a minor, and granting guardianship to the Division of Youth and Family Services ("DYFS"), and directing that a complaint of adoption be filed. Since the decision of the trial court is supported by competent, clear and convincing evidence, we affirm.
A.D.O. was born in December 2004, to J.J.O., the mother, and D.M.O., the father, who are married to each other. Shortly after the child's birth, the caseworker at the hospital contacted DYFS expressing concern about the parents' ability to care for the child. DYFS obtained a fifteen day consent order from the parents which allowed it to place the child with R.I., a niece of the mother. The child has remained with R.I. since that time, and R.I. has indicated her intent to adopt the child once defendants' parental rights are terminated.
In support of its initial plan of reunification, DYFS provided the parents with parenting skills training, psychiatric and psychological evaluations, services referrals and supervised visitation with A.D.O. The parents complied with all of DYFS' requests. The parents have had weekly visitation with the child at their home.
Both parents have serious mental health issues, and both have a history of noncompliance with treatment recommended by their doctors. They were evaluated on behalf of DYFS by Dr. Karen Wells, a psychologist, and Dr. Alexander Iofin, M.D., a psychiatrist. Dr. Edward Johnson, a psychologist, conducted a bonding evaluation of the parents and the child, and of R.I. and the child. Dr. Jonathan Mack, a psychologist retained on behalf of the father, conducted a bonding evaluation between the father and child.
The mother suffers from mental illness. She also has physical disabilities, including cerebral palsy, sleep apnea, and seizures, and she uses a wheelchair. She had stopped her medication for mental health problems when she was pregnant.
Dr. Wells found the mother to have a major depressive disorder. Dr. Iofin, the psychiatrist, testified that the mother has an affective disorder that is either bipolar or depressive. He described her mental condition as "chronic and unchangeable" and "a very serious condition." The mother had been hospitalized numerous times for her mental illness, most recently in the spring before the child was born. Due to the number of the mother's hospitalizations in the past, the doctor opined that hospitalization was likely to happen again.
The father suffers from schizophrenia and a depressive disorder. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of nineteen while he was in the military. He was discharged from the military for this condition. Over the years he has had at least five inpatient hospitalizations for acute deterioration in his psychiatric condition. His last psychiatric hospitalization was in 1998. While earlier in his life he had some problems with drug use and alcoholism, those problems had abated. Without a doctor's advice, he unilaterally stopped taking his medication in 2004, during the time his wife was pregnant with A.D.O.
Dr. Iofen, who conducted a psychiatric evaluation of the father, testified that schizophrenia is a chronic, degenerative disease. He would reasonably anticipate that the father would have another episode of psychiatric deterioration, whether or not he was on medication. The fact that the father was not taking his medication makes it more probable that he will have a relapse. The doctor explained that schizophrenia is an unpredictable disease. The schizophrenia could cause the father to become distractible, ambivalent and dysphoric which could lead to neglect of the child. In a psychotic episode, he could become delusional and harm the child. Dr. Wells, the psychologist, also testified to the chronic and unpredictable nature of the disease.
Dr. Iofin found that neither parent could be considered a viable caregiver for the child. Dr. Wells felt "very strongly that [A.D.O.] would be placed at risk" of unintentional harm by either parent, and she could not ...