On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Hudson County, Docket No. FG-09-229-06.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 9, 2007
Before Judges Collester, C.S. Fisher and C.L. Miniman.
In this appeal, we review a judgment that terminated the parental rights of defendant M.M. to his daughter, M.R., who was born on December 27, 1997.*fn1 M.M. argues that the Division of Youth and Family Services (Division) failed to prove each prong of the test contained in N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a) by clear and convincing evidence. After careful examination of the record in light of the arguments posed, we find no merit in M.M.'s contentions and affirm.
The trial occurred over the course of six days. The judge heard the testimony of Division case workers, M.M. and his wife, K.M., and the parties' experts. The judge also received over 150 exhibits in evidence.
This evidence revealed that there was a factual dispute about when M.M. became aware he was the natural father of M.R., and the judge resolved that dispute by finding, as M.M. claimed, that he learned of this in April 2002 when the child's mother commenced an action for child support. The child resided with her mother, C.R., who retained sole custody, until the events that precipitated this termination action.
On June 1, 2004, M.M. contacted the Division to assert that M.R. was not safe with her mother and that he should receive custody of the child. He also asserted that if he could not obtain custody, then the child should be placed in foster care. A week later, M.R.'s mother advised a Division case worker that M.R. was going to stay with M.M., M.M.'s wife, and their six children. However, a few days later, the child's mother advised the Division that M.R. was not being properly cared for in M.M.'s home. A case worker paid a visit and spoke with M.M.'s wife, K.M., who stated that M.M. had become angry and had returned M.R. to her mother. Although the case worker advised M.M. that the home of C.R., the child's mother, was unstable and that it was likely M.R. would be removed from the mother's home and placed in foster care, M.M. refused to take the child back to his home.
On June 19, 2004, before they could be evicted, C.R., together with M.R. and her other daughter, D.R., moved to a hotel with the assistance of the Red Cross. A few days later, they were moved to a shelter.
On July 29, 2004, legal custody of M.R. and her sister, D.R., was transferred to the Division and the children were placed in foster care. When so advised, M.M. indicated a desire to take M.R. into his home. M.R. was placed in M.M.'s home on August 13, 2004.
This placement did not last long. In early October 2004, Division case worker Gloria Smith received a call from K.M. requesting M.R.'s removal. The trial judge recognized that there was a factual dispute about what was said and done at this time. He considered the conflicting testimony, and concluded that Smith was credible -- and M.M. and K.M. were not -- and found that K.M. wanted the child removed because: she never wanted the child in her home in the first place; she was coerced into accepting the child into the home through M.M.'s physical abuse of her; and that she was overwhelmed because she was also caring for her other six young children, who ranged from two to six years old.
M.R. and her sister were thereafter briefly placed in the home of a cousin of their mother's, but eventually placed in a foster home, where they presently remain.
The judge found that the Division did not immediately provide services to help M.M. correct the circumstances that led to the child's placement outside the home at or about the time of her removal in October 2004. Although this finding certainly gives pause, nevertheless there is substance in the judge's additional findings that: there were no services provided for reunification . . . [because K.M.] wanted the child out, none were asked for and no services could address the reason for removal. Namely, we had a custodian [K.M.] who simply did not ...