February 11, 2009
DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF M.J., A MINOR.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Salem County, Docket No. FG-17-40-06.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 6, 2009
Before Judges Winkelstein and Fuentes.
Defendant J.J. is the biological father of M.J., a boy born on July 17, 2001. J.J. appeals from the judgment of the Family Part terminating his parental rights to his son, and awarding guardianship of the child to the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS). This matter came before the trial court by way of complaints for guardianship filed by DYFS against J.J. and C.G.*fn1, the mother of M.J. Judge Fineman tried both cases together in a single trial, and issued a written opinion articulating his findings and conclusions of law as to both parents. On C.G.'s direct appeal, we affirmed the trial court's judgment terminating her parental rights. Div. of Youth and Family Servs. v. C.G., No. A-6549-06 (App. Div. June 24, 2008).
In this appeal, J.J. argues that DYFS did not present sufficient evidence to warrant the termination of his parental rights under the statutory criteria outlined in N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1. We reject this argument and affirm. Because the case against J.J. and the case against C.G. have a common procedural history and share many of the core facts that have touched the life of M.J., we incorporate by reference our narrative of the procedural history and facts found in our opinion affirming the termination of C.G.'s parental rights. Id. at slip op., at 4-9.
The standards governing our review of the trial court's opinion are well-settled. In reviewing a trial court's decision to terminate parental rights, we must determine whether the trial judge's findings of fact are supported by adequate, substantial, and credible evidence in the record. N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. G.L., 191 N.J. 596, 605 (2007) (citing In re Guardianship of J.T., 269 N.J. Super. 172, 188 (App. Div. 1993)). The review process is, of necessity, extremely fact sensitive, requiring that each particularized piece of evidence match up to the specific circumstance for which it is offered. N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. M.M., 189 N.J. 261, 280 (2007).
To terminate parental rights, DYFS must demonstrate the following four statutory elements by clear and convincing evidence:
(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); DYFS v. M.M., supra, 189 N.J. at 280.]
After carefully reviewing the record before us and mindful of the legal standards described, we reject defendant J.J.'s argument and affirm substantially for the reasons expressed by Judge Fineman in his memorandum of opinion dated June 29, 2007. We add only the following brief comments.
The evidence presented by DYFS showed, clearly and convincingly, that defendant was given multiple opportunities to correct his dysfunctional lifestyle. DYFS's efforts at reuniting defendant with his son were frustrated by defendant's own willful conduct. In January 2006, when defendant was scheduled to be reunited with M.J., defendant stopped complying with court-ordered services and failed to appear in court as expected.
The evidence of J.J.'s dysfunctional and antisocial lifestyle is overwhelming. He has a long history of involvement in organized criminal activity. By his own admission, J.J. "started running" with a gang in 1977. He was arrested in 1982 on federal charges of racketeering, and sentenced to a term of twenty years in prison. He served ten years of that sentence in actual confinement and completed the balance on parole and probation.
Before the commencement of this trial, defendant moved to North Carolina. Upon his return to this State, defendant was arrested and charged with sexually assaulting one of C.G.'s other children. He was subsequently convicted of third-degree child abuse. N.J.S.A. 9:6-1. He did not testify at the trial to terminate his parental rights nor offer any expert testimony as part of his defense. J.J. has been diagnosed as suffering from a personality disorder, with schizoid and self-defeating personality traits and paranoid and avoidant personality features. He also has a long history of substance abuse.
In light of these well-documented psychiatric conditions, DYFS retained a psychologist who examined defendant and opined that placing M.J. in the custody of his biological father would expose the child to a serious risk of harm. The same expert characterized the bond between defendant and M.J. as insecure. In this light, we are in complete agreement with Judge Fineman's conclusion that M.J. "can never have a permanent place to live unless he is able to be adopted."