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Division of Youth and Family Services v. N.P.

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


March 25, 2009

DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
N.P., DEFENDANT-APPELLANT,
IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF L.P.C., A MINOR.
DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
B.A.C., DEFENDANT-APPELLANT,
IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF L.P.C., A MINOR.

On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Camden County, Docket No. FG-04-65-08.

Per curiam.

RECORD IMPOUNDED

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted February 10, 2009

Before Judges Winkelstein, Fuentes and Chambers.

In this consolidated appeal, we review the judgment of the Family Part terminating the parental rights of defendants N.P. (father) and B.A.C. (mother) to their biological daughter, L.P.C. Defendants jointly argue that the Division of Youth and Family Services ("DYFS or the Division") failed to prove, by clear and convincing evidence, the four prongs of the statutory test for termination of parental rights in N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1. B.A.C. also specifically argues that the trial court improperly considered evidence concerning the circumstances surrounding the birth of her youngest child, a boy, who is not part of this termination action.

After carefully reviewing the record, and in light of prevailing legal standards, we affirm substantially for the reasons expressed by Judge Donaldson in her memorandum of opinion. Because the relevant facts are set out in detail in Judge Donaldson's written opinion, we incorporate them by reference here. In the interest of clarity, we will nonetheless briefly outline the most salient facts.

B.A.C. was born in 1973; she is currently thirty-five years old; N.P. was born in 1961, and was forty-seven years old when this appeal was filed. Defendants' oldest child L.P., a boy, was born prematurely in May 2003, and was declared clinically dead at birth. Both B.A.C. and the infant tested positive for cocaine and heroin at the time. The boy survived this ordeal with intensive medical intervention, and was immediately placed in the custody of the Division. The court terminated B.A.C.'s parental rights to this child on October 14, 2005. N.P. surrendered his parental rights to L.P. on November 10, 2005. The boy was thereafter adopted by a cousin of N.P.

L.P.C., the child involved in this termination action, was born on July 26, 2006. She was exposed to methadone and cocaine in utero, and was diagnosed as addicted to methadone at birth.

Her addiction required immediate medical intervention to treat the symptoms of withdrawal. This included morphine injections every three hours. When this approach proved ineffectual, the treatment was supplemented with Phenobarbital. Like her older brother, L.P.C. was immediately placed in the custody of the Division, where she has remained to date.

The record at trial shows that both defendants are chronic substance abusers. Their decisions to have children while addicted to illicit drugs have caused their children, including L.P.C., serious harm. As Judge Donaldson found, L.P.C. is developmentally delayed, has exhibited symptoms of neurological deficits, and continues to be at risk for further complications. All of the child's medical problems are directly linked to defendants' addiction to illicit drugs.

Commencing with the birth of their first child, DFYS has given defendants multiple opportunities to address their substance abuse problem to no avail. Defendants' addiction has caused direct harm to L.P.C., and continues to pose a threat to her physical and emotional well-being.

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 the arguments advanced by defendants, and affirm substantially for the reasons expressed by Judge Donaldson in her well-reasoned, comprehensive memorandum of opinion dated April 7, 2008.

Affirmed.

20090325

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