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In re S.K.

March 24, 2009


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Camden County, FA-04-0142-06B.

Per curiam.



Submitted March 2, 2009

Before Judges Reisner and Alvarez.

A.S.M. appeals from a final judgment dated November 7, 2007, terminating his parental rights to his biological son, M.H., and finalizing the child's adoption by S.K. and K.K.*fn1 We affirm, substantially for the reasons stated by Judge Rand in his comprehensive written opinion issued on October 26, 2007.

Our review of the trial court's decision is quite limited. Cesare v. Cesare, 154 N.J. 394, 411-12 (1998). We must affirm the trial court's ruling so long as it is supported by substantial credible evidence and is consistent with applicable law. Ibid. We owe particular deference to the Family Part because of its expertise. Id. at 413.

The trial record, which we have carefully reviewed, amply supports the judge's findings of fact and legal conclusions, which we briefly summarize here. A.S.M., who was born in Somalia in 1970, came to the United States in approximately 1996 and settled in Louisville, Kentucky. In Kentucky, he entered into a purported "marriage" with a 15-year-old girl, K.H. The marriage was arranged between the girl's mother and A.S.M. According to K.H., whose testimony the judge found credible, the girl's mother pressured her into the arranged marriage with A.S.M., who was thirty-two years old at the time.*fn2 A religious ceremony was performed, but the couple never obtained a marriage license. Moreover, the marriage would not have been legal under Kentucky law because K.H. was not of legal age to marry. A.S.M. kept K.H. in what she described as a filthy apartment with inadequate food.

K.H. became pregnant shortly after she turned sixteen. A.S.M. did not provide her with prenatal care or otherwise assist her during the pregnancy. When K.H. was about five months pregnant, she fled to her father's home in Pennsylvania. She then arranged through a private non-profit agency for the baby to be adopted in New Jersey through an open adoption process in which she selected the prospective parents, S.K. and K.K. In fact, at K.H.'s request, K.K. was present at the child's birth.

The adoptive parents, who initially took the child knowing that his biological father's rights had not yet been terminated, filed a complaint for adoption in New Jersey. A.S.M. filed an objection to the adoption and sought visitation, which was granted. However, his visits were sporadic and chaotic, he arrived to them late, and he made no effort to financially support the child or provide him with toys, gifts or other tokens of affection. During his few visits, he spent little time paying attention to the child and spent most of the visits trying to videotape or photograph him. No bonding took place between father and son. Meanwhile, the child has bonded with S.K. and K.K., with whom he has a loving familial relationship.

Based on the expert testimony of Dr. Ronald Gruen, a psychologist, Judge Rand concluded that A.S.M. was an unfit parent, who perceived the child as his property and demonstrated no real interest in the child as a person. The judge found that A.S.M. had "no relationship with the child" and was "a stranger" to him: "His plans evidenced from his testimony . . . were to have others raise the child; such as his mother, friends or a new wife. . . . What was he going to do? Everyone else was going to help raise the child except [A.S.M.]."

Finding A.S.M.'s trial testimony to be completely incredible, the judge concluded that he had not performed the duties of a parent at any time since before the child was born until the time of the trial. He did not help K.H. when she was pregnant; he did not support the child after his birth; he showed no continued interest in the child and made no effort to maintain communication with him; he did nothing "to establish and maintain a place of importance in the child's life." Therefore, Judge Rand concluded that it was in the child's best interest to terminate A.S.M.'s parental rights and approve the adoption.

In a four-page appellate brief, A.S.M. contends that he did try to take care of K.H. to the best of his ability, and he tried to locate and spend time with his son after K.H. left him.

He contends that having a family is important to him, and that the trial court was unfairly influenced by the testimony of the expert witness, Dr. Gruen. Nothing in A.S.M.'s brief provides a basis for us to disturb Judge Rand's well-reasoned and well-documented opinion, which is supported by substantial credible evidence, see Cesare, supra, 154 N.J. at 411-12, and is ...

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