On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, Docket No. FG 07-154-06.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted February 6, 2008
Before Judges Cuff and Lihotz.
Defendant, C.B., appeals from a Family Part judgment that terminated her parental rights to her son, A.K.B., born on January 2, 2005, and awarded guardianship to the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS or Division) for the purpose of consenting to adoption. The guardianship judgment also terminated the parental rights of K.M., the child's father. K.M. surrendered his parental rights on September 28, 2006, and he has not appealed.
C.B. urges reversal of the trial court's decision, arguing DYFS failed to establish, by clear and convincing evidence, each of the four integrated and necessary statutory criteria to end a parent-child relationship. N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a). After reviewing the record and the applicable law, in light of the contentions advanced on appeal, we conclude the trial court's findings are supported by clear and convincing evidence and its conclusions predicated on those findings are legally sound. We affirm.
When reviewing judgments to terminate parental rights, we remain mindful that the federal and state constitutions protect the integrity of the family unit. Stanley v. Illinois, 405 U.S. 645, 651, 92 S.Ct. 1208, 1212-13, 31 L.Ed. 2d 551, 558-59 (1972); N.J. Div. of Youth and Family Servs. v. A.W., 103 N.J. 591, 599 (1986). Nevertheless, the State's role of parens patriae historically imposes a responsibility to protect the welfare of children from the probability of serious physical, emotional or psychological harm resulting from the actions or omissions of their parents. N.J. Div. of Youth and Family Servs. v. C.S., 367 N.J. Super. 76, 110 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 180 N.J. 456 (2004). See also N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.8a. Thus, the fundamental right of a parent to enjoy a relationship with a child is not absolute. Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745, 753, 102 S.Ct. 1388, 1394, 71 L.Ed. 2d 599, 606 (1982); In re Adoption of Children by G.P.B., Jr., 161 N.J. 396, 404 (1999); In re Guardianship of K.H.O., 161 N.J. 337, 347 (1999).
Our Legislature has recognized that "the health and safety of the child shall be the State's paramount concern when making a decision on whether or not it is in the child's best interest to preserve the family unit." N.J.S.A. 30:4C-1(a). The best interests standard, initially formulated by the Court in A.W., supra, 103 N.J. at 604-11, and codified in N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a), requires the State to establish each of the following standards by clear and convincing evidence before parental rights may be severed:
(1) The child's safety, health or development has been or will continue to be endangered by the parental relationship;
(2) The parent is unwilling or unable to eliminate the harm facing the child or is unable or unwilling to provide a safe and stable home for the child and the delay of permanent placement will add to the harm. Such harm may include evidence that separating the child from his resource family parents would cause serious and enduring emotional or psychological harm to the child;
(3) The division has made reasonable efforts to provide services to help the parent correct the circumstances which led to the child's placement outside the home and the court has considered alternatives to termination of parental rights; and
(4) Termination of parental rights will not do more harm than good. [N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a).]
These requirements are not discrete, but overlap to provide a composite picture of what may be necessary to advance the best interests of a child. The considerations involved in determining parental fitness are extremely fact sensitive and require particularized evidence, which addresses the ...