On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, Docket No. FG-07-137-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 21, 2009
Before Judges Wefing, Parker and Yannotti.
R.J. appeals from an order entered by the Family Part on February 14, 2008, which terminated his parental rights to his minor children, Z.J. and R.R.J.*fn1 We affirm.
We briefly summarize the relevant facts. The Division of Youth and Family Services (Division) became involved with the family on September 12, 2002, when it learned that T.H. had given birth to Z.J. outside of a hospital. The child tested positive for opiates and methadone and she was experiencing withdrawal.
On September 27, 2002, the Division filed an amended complaint seeking to add Z.J. to a pending action involving T.H.'s other four children. In addition, the Division filed an application seeking an order granting it the care, custody and supervision of Z.J. The court entered an order on September 27, 2002, granting the relief sought by the Division. On October 4, 2002, the child was placed with R.J.'s cousin, L.B. R.J. was arrested on August 3, 2003 and charged in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C.A. § 922(g)(1),(2). Defendant was incarcerated following his arrest. Defendant later was found guilty of the charge. On November 22, 2004, he was sentenced to eight years and four months of incarceration in a federal correctional institution.
On October 21, 2003, the court entered a permanency order approving the Division's plan to continue Z.J.'s placement with a relative. The court found that it was not safe to return the child to T.H. because she was still involved with drugs and R.J. was incarcerated.
On February 13, 2004, the Division was informed that T.H. had given birth to R.R.J. on February 10, 2004. The Division learned that T.H. had not received any pre-natal care and T.H. and the child had tested positive for opiates. R.R.J. weighed approximately four pounds when he was born.
The Division filed an amended complaint on February 17, 2004, adding R.R.J. to the then-pending litigation involving T.H. and her other children. The Division also filed an application seeking the care, custody and supervision of the newborn child. The court entered an order on February 17, 2004, granting the Division's application. The Division placed the child in an approved resource home. Thereafter, R.R.J. was placed with L.B.'s mother-in-law, M.B.
In October 2006, the court approved the Division's plan to terminate R.J.'s and T.H.'s parental rights to Z.J. and R.R.J. The court found that the Division's plan was appropriate because R.J. was incarcerated and T.H. failed to comply with the services provided by the Division, had not obtained suitable housing, and failed to fully address her substance abuse "issues."
In January 2007, the Division filed its complaint seeking the termination of T.H.'s and R.J.'s parental rights. The court entered default against T.H. on September 13, 2007 based upon her failure to appear. The trial in the matter took place in January 2008. Although R.J. was incarcerated at the time, he participated in the trial by telephone. T.H. did not appear for the trial.
At the trial, the Division presented testimony from the Division's case manager, Hope Polite (Polite). Polite testified that R.J. was expected to be released from jail in November 2010. Polite stated that the Division had not been able to locate T.H. and she did not know where T.H. was living; however, during the trial, it was revealed that T.H. was living in Georgia with her four older children.
Polite noted that neither R.J. nor T.H. had ever had custody of Z.J. and R.R.J. She testified that the Division provided T.H. with an array of services. The Division also provided R.J. with services prior to his incarceration. Polite explained that, after R.J.'s incarceration, the Division was not able to provide him with services. Polite testified that the children's caretakers were committed to adoption.
Polite further testified that the Division believed that the children would be at risk of abuse and neglect if they were reunited with T.H. because "they need permanency [and] stability" which T.H. could not provide "at the moment." Polite also said that the children could not be reunited with R.J. She stated that the Division believed adoption was the best plan for the children because of their need for permanency and stability.
The Division also presented testimony from Mark Singer (Singer), Ph.D., a licensed psychologist. Singer stated that he had scheduled T.H. for a psychological evaluation but she failed to appear. Singer evaluated R.J. while he was in jail. Singer noted that R.J. had an extensive criminal record that included convictions for kidnapping, attempted assault and a violation of parole.
Singer also noted that R.J. had been incarcerated since 1979, except for seven years. The doctor observed that R.J. was then serving a sentence for a weapons offense and his earliest possible release date was March 2010. Singer said that he believed R.J.'s criminal record was significant because it indicated that ...