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Division of Youth and Family Services v. A.R.C.

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


July 29, 2008

DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
A.R.C., DEFENDANT-APPELLANT,
IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF I.Z.F.H., A MINOR.
DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
R.H., DEFENDANT-APPELLANT,
IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF I.Z.F.H., A MINOR.

On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Union County, FG-20-60-06.

Per curiam.

RECORD IMPOUNDED

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted June 11, 2008

Before Judges Wefing and Collester.

A.C. and R.H. are the mother and father, respectively, of I.Z.F.H., born on June 4, 2004. They have never been married and live apart. Both appeal separately from a judgment terminating their parental rights entered by Judge Rudolph N. Hawkins of the Union County Family Court. On October 22, 2007 we consolidated the appeals.

The Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS or the Division) has been involved with A.C. and her other four children since January 1989, when they received a referral based on A.C.'s drug involvement and the fact that she left her children with their grandmother for days. Other referrals occurred in 1992 and 1994 involving the use of drugs, abandonment of the children by leaving them alone and for abuse.

In 1996 one of defendant's daughters was removed and placed in DYFS's care while her two sons lived with relatives. At the time of I.Z.F.H.'s birth, defendant was living with her two sons, then ages sixteen and nineteen.

A.C. has an extensive psychiatric history with diagnoses of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and heroin dependency. She was prescribed antipsychotic medication, which she ceased taking during her pregnancy at the suggestion of her doctor prior to the birth of I.Z.F.H. A referral was made to the Division on birth of the child because A.C. reported experiencing hallucinations and blackouts. Both A.C. and R.H. consented to a fifteen day placement on June 4, 2004. I.Z.F.H. was placed in a foster home with N.M., a relative, who now wishes to adopt the child.

When problems continued with A.C.'s psychosis and continued substance abuse, the Division filed its complaint to terminate the parental rights of A.C. on March 6, 2006. The complaint also sought to terminate the parental rights of R.H. as father of the child. The matter was tried before Judge Hawkins on May 24, 2007 and continued over five days. In an oral opinion rendered on June 26, 2007, Judge Hawkins terminated the parental rights of both biological parents.

A.C. makes the following legal arguments for our consideration:

POINT I - SUBSTANTIAL CREDIBLE EVIDENCE DID NOT EXIST TO SUPPORT THE COURT'S FINDINGS THAT THE 'BEST INTERESTS' TEST WAS PROVEN BY CLEAR AND CONVINCING EVIDENCE.

A. THE COURT'S FINDINGS THAT DEFENDANT WAS UNABLE TO OR UNWILLING TO ELIMINATE THE HARM FACING THE CHILD AND UNWILLING OR UNABLE TO PROVIDE A SAFE AND STABLE HOME ENVIRONMENT WERE ERRONEOUS.

B. DYFS FAILED TO SATISFY THE REASONABLE EFFORTS STANDARD BECAUSE IT UNILATERALLY CEASED ALL EFFORTS TO PROVIDE SERVICES TO THE DEFENDANT WITHOUT JUDICIAL APPROVAL OR ALTERNATIVES TO TERMINATION.

C. DEFENDANT IS ENTITLED TO A REVERSAL BECAUSE THE EVIDENCE WHICH WAS PRESENTED DID NOT SUPPORT A FINDING THAT TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS WOULD NOT DO MORE HARM THAN GOOD.

R.H. does not seek to be the caregiver for his son I.Z.F.H. Rather, he contends that I.Z.F.H. should be placed with A.C. because it will give him an opportunity to be a presence in his son's life. He pledges that he will provide financial support for the child. Notably, R.H. has eleven children by as many different woman and has not been significantly involved in the lives of any of them.

Nonetheless, on appeal he makes the following arguments:

POINT I - THE ORDER TERMINATING THE DEFENDANT'S PARENTAL RIGHTS MUST BE REVERSED BECAUSE THE NJ DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES DID NOT SUFFICIENTLY CONSIDER ALTERNATIVES TO TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS, THUS FAILING TO SATISFY THE THIRD PRONG OF THE TEST.

POINT II - THE ORDER TERMINATING THE FATHER'S PARENTAL RIGHTS MUST BE REVERSED BECAUSE THE DIVISION FAILED TO PROVE THAT THE CHILD'S HEALTH AND DEVELOPMENT WERE ENDANGERED BY HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH HIS FATHER.

POINT III - THE ORDER TERMINATING THE FATHER'S PARENTAL RIGHTS MUST BE REVERSED BECAUSE THE DIVISION FAILED TO PROVE THAT TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS WOULD NOT DO MORE HARM THAN GOOD.

We affirm substantially for the reasons set forth by Judge Hawkins in his oral decision on June 26, 2007 in which he determined that the Division had proved all four prongs of the test as set forth by the Supreme Court in New Jersey Div. of Youth and Family Servs. v. A.W., 103 N.J. 591, 604-05 (1986), which was codified in N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15(a). There is substantial credible evidence in the record to support his findings and legal conclusions.

Affirmed.

20080729

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