On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Middlesex County, FG-12-91-06.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted December 18, 2007
Before Judges Grall and Chambers.
In this termination of parental rights case, F.G.A., Sr., the father, appeals from the judgment of March 28, 2007, terminating his parental rights to his son, F.G.A., Jr. The judgment also terminated the parental rights of the mother, S.A., to this child, but she has not appealed. The law guardian for F.G.A., Jr., supports the termination of F.G.A., Sr.'s parental rights.
F.G.A., Jr., was born in New Jersey on December 19, 2002, at which time both he and his mother tested positive for cocaine. The Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) was granted legal custody, and the child was placed in foster care where he has remained.
When contacted by DYFS, F.G.A., Sr., initially questioned paternity. Although married to the mother when the child was born, F.G.A., Sr., was living in North Carolina and caring for the first child of the marriage while the mother was in New Jersey. In January 2004, F.G.A., Sr., received the results of a paternity test indicating that he was the child's father. In July 2004, S.A. gave birth to the third child of this marriage.
The mother has a history of drug usage; she also has a criminal record consisting of various theft offenses and has served time in prison for some of these offenses; she has maintained a transient life style; and none of her eight children were living with her at the time of the trial. Since F.G.A., Jr.'s birth, S.A. has intermittently lived with F.G.A., Sr., in North Carolina.
A Home Study Evaluation was completed by the North Carolina authorities in May 2005, at the request of DYFS. At that time the parents were living together. The North Carolina authorities recommended against placing F.G.A., Jr., and his two half-brothers, in the home. The report indicated that while both parents had stable employment and the family had stable housing, although in a high crime area with known drug activity, the family was described as in crisis due to the unstable relationship of the parents, who were contemplating separation. The records indicate some concerns with domestic violence, although such conduct has been denied by F.G.A., Sr. F.G.A., Sr., who works as a bus driver, became unemployed at the beginning of 2006, and as a result of the loss of income, he was evicted from his apartment. He obtained new employment as a bus driver in the fall of 2006. Although he filed a divorce complaint against S.A. in the summer of 2006, F.G.A.
Sr., S.A., and their two daughters were living together in a hotel in the fall of 2006. Due to numerous concerns, including lack of cooperation by the parents and the mother's drug use as well as domestic violence allegations, North Carolina authorities removed the two daughters from the home in December 2006, only a few months before the hearing below. In January 2007, F.G.A, Sr., obtained a divorce from S.A. The hearing on termination of parental rights commenced in March 2007.
By the time of the hearing, F.G.A., Jr., had been in three different foster homes in the more than four years since his birth. He has lived in the last foster home since January 2006, and that family wants to adopt him. During all these years, F.G.A., Sr., had seen the child not more than ten times by his own testimony. F.G.A., Sr., testified that he was unable to have more frequent visits due to the demands of his job and the fact that he lived in North Carolina and needed two travel days to come to New Jersey.
Dr. Andrew P. Brown, III, conducted a psychological evaluation of F.G.A., Sr., on October 21, 2003. The Doctor found no psychopathology or aberrant personality. Nothing he found indicated that F.G.A., Sr., would endanger his children or that he was incapable of parenting them. The Doctor recommended that F.G.A., Sr., be allowed custody of the child pending the Division's determination that he could provide an appropriate residence.
Dr. Karen Wells, who conducted a psychological evaluation of F.G.A., Sr., on January 7, 2007, reached a contrary conclusion, writing in her report that F.G.A., Sr., "has not demonstrated sustained psychological and emotional functioning to attend to the needs of a child." She testified that while F.G.A., Sr., did not have any personal psychopathology he did have "significant psychopathology" with respect to relationships. She indicated that F.G.A., Sr., would need to show a minimum of ...