On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Union County, Docket Nos. FG-20-62-06 and FG-09-176-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Fisher, C.L. Miniman and King.
In these consolidated appeals, we review a judgment terminating the parental rights of both defendants. After careful review, we defer to the trial judge's factual findings, because they were established by credible evidence, and conclude that the judge correctly applied the statutory test germane to such matters.
Defendants G.B. and C.J., Sr. (C.J.), were married on February 14, 1998. At the time, G.B. was pregnant with C.J., Jr., who was born on May 20, 1998; he was G.B.'s second child. C.J. and G.B. resided together after their marriage. Their relationship was immediately troubled by allegations of domestic violence. C.J. was alleged to have grabbed and dragged G.B. by the neck out of a friend's apartment in September 1998 and, a month later, was alleged to have physically accosted G.B. at her place of employment. They soon separated.
On June 13, 1999, G.B. gave birth to another child, fathered by someone other than C.J.*fn1 On September 16, 1999, a Virginia family court awarded G.B. legal and physical custody of C.J., Jr., subject to C.J.'s visitation rights.
On February 2, 2001, G.B. placed C.J., Jr., in foster care; she was then pregnant with her fourth child. C.J., who was stationed in Florida with the Navy, sought custody. On November 14, 2001, he was awarded custody of C.J., Jr. (hereafter, "the child"), then three years old.
In June 2002, C.J. was told by the Navy that he had tested positive for H.I.V. At that time, he returned to Virginia for medical treatment, and he and the child visited with G.B. That was the last contact G.B. ever had with the child.
C.J. returned to Florida. Since then and following C.J.'s relocation to New Jersey, referrals were made regarding his physical abuse of the child. In early 2005, C.J. signed a fifteen-day voluntary agreement, which placed the child with a paternal aunt. A few days later, the aunt indicated she was unable to continue to care for the child, who was then placed with a family friend, where he has remained until recently.
In light of injuries suffered by the child while in C.J.'s care in January 2005, the Division of Youth and Family Services (the Division) made a referral to the Union County Prosecutor's Office. In the meantime, the Division provided services to C.J. to address his parenting inadequacies, and conducted a search for G.B.
C.J. pled guilty to child abuse charges and, on January 6, 2006, was sentenced to a three-year probationary term. In January 2006, a Family Part judge also approved a permanency plan that called for the termination of C.J.'s parental rights. The Division remained unable to locate G.B. and commenced this guardianship action on March 22, 2006. Services continued to be provided to C.J. and evaluations were conducted. Therapeutic visitation was scheduled between C.J. and the child from May 2007 until the time of trial.
In July 2007, the Division located G.B. in Norfolk, Virginia, and the pleadings in this action were served upon her. On September 17, 2007, G.B. attended a case management conference; the judge required that she submit to a psychological evaluation before permitting visitation. Despite the Division's offer of bus or train tickets to G.B. to permit her to travel to New Jersey for the required psychological and substance abuse evaluations, G.B. only appeared for her defense psychological evaluation, which occurred at ...