On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division - Family Part, Hudson County, FG-09-127-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted: January 16, 2008
Before Judges Axelrad, Sapp-Peterson and Messano.
S.C. and J.C., the parents of five-year-old A.C., appeal from the March 9, 2007 Family Part judgment terminating their parental rights. The law guardian for A.C. argues in favor of termination of her parental rights. S.C. is the mother of twelve-and-a-half-year-old G.P., whose putative father is J.F.*fn1 S.C. also appeals from the order terminating her parental rights to G.P., and G.P., through his law guardian joins in the appeal.
S.C. and J.C. contend the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence the requisite statutory prongs to establish that the best interests of A.C. required severance of their parental ties. With regard to G.P., both S.C. and the law guardian emphasize that DYFS failed to adequately consider his special needs and strong bond with his mother, as well as the potential availability of a placement with his maternal aunt, M.P.I. The law guardian urges that G.P.'s special needs and age make him difficult to place, and argues that by terminating his mother's parental rights, the court has effectively made him a legal orphan.
After considering the record and briefs in light of the applicable law, we are satisfied the trial judge's findings and conclusions with regard to A.C. are firmly supported by substantial, credible evidence in the record as a whole. See, e.g., New Jersey Div. of Youth and Family Servs. v. A.R.G., 361 N.J. Super. 46, 78 (App. Div. 2003), aff'd in part, modified in part and remanded, 179 N.J. 264 (2004). Accordingly, we affirm the portion of the order terminating the parental rights of S.C. and J.C. to their daughter A.C. substantially for the reasons set forth in the court's comprehensive oral decision following the four-day trial.
We agree with many of the arguments advanced by S.C. and the law guardian as to G.P., however, and reverse the order terminating S.C.'s parental rights to G.P. We remand and direct DYFS to explore long term foster placement of G.P. with his maternal aunt, M.P.I., with the provision of specialized services to address G.P.'s multitude of needs, and if that placement is not acceptable to DYFS, to explore such other alternatives to termination as the agency deems appropriate. The termination complaint shall be restored as to G.P. so that if the alternative placements are not feasible, DYFS may return to court and present further evidence as to the third and fourth statutory prongs.
G.P. was born on April 11, 1995 in Brazil. S.C. left G.P. in Brazil with her parents when he was about two years old to live with her sister in the United States. S.C. returned to Brazil for a short period of time during which J.F., the boy's putative father, threatened, stalked and eventually shot S.C. in front of G.P. when he was six years old. J.F. had no further contact with them as he was incarcerated for a period of time and S.C. brought the child to the United States.
S.C. and J.C. married in 2001. A.C. was born on December 20, 2002 in New Jersey. J.C.'s history with DYFS began in October 1990 as a result of several incidents with his former wife, and continued through 1994. J.C. and his first wife eventually divorced and he is currently estranged from his two older children from that marriage.
The record discloses that DYFS' initial involvement with J.C. and S.C. commenced in November 2002. There were several referrals over a six-month period alleging drug use by the parties and domestic disputes; however, DYFS found abuse and neglect to be unsubstantiated. DYFS again became involved with the family following a domestic dispute on March 9, 2004 in which S.C. obtained a temporary restraining order (TRO) against J.C. as result of a domestic violence incident. The police arrived and sent S.C. and the children to Providence House, a safe haven house for women. J.C. informed DYFS that S.C. used drugs and alcohol, was trying to kill him, and intended to kill herself. Upon investigation, DYFS learned about J.C.'s use of pain killers and tranquilizers, as well as cocaine; J.C.'s physical abuse and threats to S.C. in the children's presence; and the numerous times that the police had been called to the house regarding domestic violence incidents between the parties.
S.C. and the children then returned home and J.C. remained at his mother's house. J.C., S.C., and J.C.'s mother signed an in-home case plan providing that: the parents would provide a safe environment free of substance use, domestic violence, and corporal punishment; the parents would comply with substance abuse and psychological evaluations, anger management counseling and in-home counseling services, and all recommendations; J.C. would not live in the home pending psychological and substance evaluations and the starting of anger management counseling; J.C.'s visits with the children would be supervised by his mother or sister pending those evaluations; and the parents would follow up weekly with a school social worker regarding G.P.'s mental well-being. S.C. dismissed the TRO.
Dr. Alan Lee, a psychologist, evaluated J.C. and diagnosed him with dysthymic disorder; anxiety disorder NOS; history of panic disorder without agoraphobia; history of cocaine, cannabis and amphetamine abuse; intermittent explosive disorder; and personality disorder NOS with narcissistic and paranoid and anti-social traits. He recommended ongoing psychotropic medication monitoring, a DYFS-approved anger management program, a domestic violence perpetrator program and parenting education program, individual or group ...