March 7, 2008
NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
N.R., DEFENDANT-APPELLANT, AND R.R., DEFENDANT.
IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF J.R., A MINOR.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Hudson County, Docket No. FG-09-143-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted February 11, 2008
Before Judges A.A. Rodríguez, C.S. Fisher and C.L. Miniman.
The Division of Youth and Family Services (Division) brought this action, seeking the termination of the parental rights of defendants to their daughter, J.R., who was born on March 30, 1999. Following a trial, Judge Salvatore Bovino rendered a lengthy oral decision and entered judgment terminating the parental rights of both defendants. Only defendant J.R. (defendant), the child's birth mother, has appealed. We find no merit in her arguments and affirm.
In appealing, defendant argues that the judge's findings were against the weight of the evidence and that there was insufficient evidence to satisfy N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a), which requires that for there to be a termination of parental rights, the Division must prove by clear and convincing evidence that:
(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 . . .;
(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.
See also N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. A.W., 103 N.J. 591, 604-05 (1986).
In an oral decision that spanned over seventy transcript pages, the judge rendered numerous findings of fact and determined that there was clear and convincing evidence to meet all four prongs of the statutory test. The applicable standard of appellate review requires that we defer to a trial judge's factual findings when they are based on credible evidence in the record and unless we are convinced those findings are "so wholly unsupportable as to result in a denial of justice." In re Guardianship of J.N.H., 172 N.J. 440, 472 (2002); Cesare v. Cesare, 154 N.J. 394, 411-12 (1998).
In his findings regarding the first and second prongs of the statutory test, the judge found that defendant, who was twenty-seven years old at the time of trial, had been using illegal substances since she was twelve years old. At the time of trial, defendant was also on probation for a drug-related offense and had failed to comply with the terms of her probation. Among other things, the judge recognized defendant's long-term inability to adequately care for J.R. due to her drug addiction. The judge also found that defendant had admitted to professionals who had evaluated her that "she becomes very erratic when she uses drugs," that she "was not mentally there for the child," and that she was a "neglectful" parent. Defendant's inability to adequately parent this or any other child at the present time was exemplified, as the judge found, by defendant having given birth in December, 2006, to B.R., who suffered from withdrawal symptoms at birth as a result of defendant's use of illegal substances.*fn1 These and the judge's other findings more than adequately demonstrated that the "child's safety, health or development has been or will continue to be endangered by the parental relationship," and that defendant was unable or unwilling "to eliminate the harm facing the child" or "provide a safe and stable home for the child," and that "the delay of permanent placement will add to the harm." N.J.S.A. 30:4D-15.1(a)(1) and (2).
We are also satisfied that there was ample evidence, which the judge was entitled to view as clear and convincing, to support the judge's conclusion that the third and fourth prongs were met.
To summarize, we conclude that Judge Bovino thoughtfully applied the correct legal standards to the facts he found. Accordingly, we discern from the record no sound reason for disturbing the judge's determination and affirm substantially for the reasons set forth in Judge Bovino's comprehensive and insightful oral decision.