December 3, 2008
NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF S.K. AND K.K., MINORS.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Salem County, FG-17-16-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted November 12, 2008
Before Judges Winkelstein, Gilroy and Chambers.
Defendant S.C., the mother of four children, appeals from the trial court judgment of November 26, 2007, terminating her parental rights to two of those children, S.K., born in June 1997, and K.K., born in December 1998. The identity of S.K.'s father is unknown. K.K.'s father, E.K., gave an identified surrender*fn1 of K.K. in favor of the child's great grandparents on February 5, 2007.
S.K. was removed from her mother's care in October 2005, and placed in foster care; she then went to live with her great grandparents. In March 2007, she was placed with her great aunt P.J., who seeks to adopt her. K.K. has lived with his great grandparents since he was four months old. These great grandparents want to adopt him. At the time of the hearing in the trial court, S.C.'s other two children also were no longer in her custody.
Following a bench trial, Judge Fineman terminated the parental rights of S.C. to S.K. and K.K., setting forth the reasons for that decision in a written opinion dated November 26, 2007, and memorializing the decision in an order on that date. The Law Guardian for S.K. and K.K. supported the decision to terminate S.C.'s parental rights.
On appeal, S.C. contends that the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence the legal standards for terminating her parental rights. She raises the following points on appeal:
A Parent's Right to a Relationship with His/Her Children is of Fundamental Importance and the State Failed to Meet its Statutory Burden by Clear and Convincing Evidence.
Application of the Law to the Facts with Respect to S.C. Requires the Judgment to be Reversed and the Law Requires Re-Unification of S.C. and K.K. and S.K.
The Reports and Opinions Offered by DYFS Should Not Have Been Admitted and Relied Upon Where the Conclusions of Sexual Abuse Were Directly Refuted by Dr. Boos.
Our review of a decision by the trial court to terminate parental rights is limited, and we will not disturb the factual findings of the trial judge when they are supported by substantial credible evidence in the record. N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. E.P., supra, 196 N.J. at 104. In our review, we recognize that the trial court is in a better position to evaluate the credibility of the witnesses and "has a 'feel of the case'" that cannot be duplicated "by a review of the cold record." Ibid. (quoting N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. M.M., 189 N.J. 261, 293 (2007)). Thus, we will not intervene unless the trial court's determination is so "'clearly mistaken' or 'wide of the mark'" that to let it stand would amount to a denial of justice. Ibid. (quoting N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. G.L., 191 N.J. 596, 605 (2007)).
We have carefully reviewed the record in light of the four- prong "best interests" test set forth in N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. A.W., 103 N.J. 591, 604-11 (1986), as subsequently codified in N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a), and developed in later case law, and conclude that the record supports the trial court's findings that S.C.'s parental rights to S.K. and K.K. should be terminated. We find substantial credible evidence in the record to support the trial judge's decision, and we affirm substantially for the reasons expressed in Judge Fineman's comprehensive written opinion.