On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, FG-07-212-06.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 29, 2007
Before Judges Lintner, Graves and Sabatino.
In this appeal, R.B., the fifty-four-year-old biological father of a four-year-old girl ("A.B."), seeks review of a final judgment of guardianship in favor of the Division of Youth and Family Services ("DYFS") entered by the Family Part in January 2007. The judgment was rendered after a three-day trial.
The child's biological mother, Z.S., is in her twenties. Z.S. and R.B. never married. They had two children together: A.B., who was born in May 2003, and a younger son, J.B., who was born in April 2005. R.B. has five adult children from other relationships.
DYFS first became involved with the parties in March 2004. It received a report that A.B., then ten months old, had been left alone by her mother in the back of a taxi, along with a diaper bag containing cocaine and drug paraphernalia. Subsequently, DYFS determined that R.B. had a twenty-five year history of drug and alcohol abuse, had recently failed a drug screen, and had domestic violence and anger management issues.
Because neither parent was then able to care for A.B., DYFS placed her with her maternal grandmother, G.S.O. The child has been in G.S.O.'s care in the ensuing three years. G.S.O. now wishes to adopt her.
In August 2005 DYFS temporarily took custody of A.B.'s brother, J.B., because of Z.S.'s unstable circumstances and her addiction to cocaine. Since that time, however, Z.S. has substantially addressed her substance abuse problems, and she regained custody of J.B. She and J.B. moved in with her mother and A.B., where they continue to reside.
Meanwhile, R.B. attempted to address his problems of substance abuse and angry behavior, but he was not successful. He was admitted to an outpatient substance abuse program with the Department of Veterans Affairs ("VA") in November 2004. However, the VA reported in September 2005 that he had failed to complete treatment and was not even "minimally compliant." For his anger management issues, DYFS referred R.B. in July 2004 to a program known as "Men of Peace." He was expelled from that program in November 2005 for excessive absences. That same month, R.B. tested positive for cocaine. Although R.B. intermittently worked as a truck driver and on a loading dock, an evaluation performed by Catholic Charities in July 2006 showed that he was then unemployed and without a drivers license. He was living at his sister's house, although hoping to move into his own apartment.
Because R.B. continued to have substance abuse and behavioral problems, and also lacked his own housing and a steady job, DYFS determined that he was not a suitable caretaker for his daughter. However, DYFS did arrange weekly supervised visits between R.B. and his two children, at a facility known as the Tri-City Peoples Corporation ("Tri-City"). As of the time of trial, over thirty such visits had taken place. According to Tri-City's case manager, the children positively interacted with their father during those visits.
Consequently, DYFS sought the termination of the parental rights of both Z.S. and R.B. to their daughter. Z.S. did not challenge DYFS' action, having previously made a voluntary surrender of A.B. to G.S.O. However, R.B. did contest the matter, and the case proceeded to trial in December 2006. DYFS presented testimony from a case manager, G.S.O., and an expert witness, Dr. Barry Katz, a psychologist. R.B. testified on his own behalf, and also presented expert testimony from another psychologist, Dr. Ronald Silikovitz.
After hearing three days of testimony, Judge James Rothschild issued a forty-two page opinion on January 9, 2007, concluding that DYFS had established, by clear and convincing evidence, the grounds for termination of R.B.'s ...