On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Cape May County, FN-05-165-06.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Winkelstein, Gilroy and Chambers.
C.P., the biological mother of two minor children, appeals from the May 20, 2008 order of the Family Part that denied her request to suspend judgment under N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.51a and -8.52, and reinstated a prior judgment determining that she had abused or neglected her children. We reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
This is the second appeal in this abuse and neglect case. Because the statements of procedural history and facts were discussed at length in our prior opinion, N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. C.P., No. A-3590-06 (App. Div. March 20, 2008), it is unnecessary for us to detail them here. Nevertheless, the following summary will place this appeal in context.
Following a fact-finding hearing on October 26, 2006, the trial court entered a civil judgment of abuse or neglect against C.P., determining that she had abused or neglected her two children by failing to exercise a minimum degree of care in providing adequate housing, resulting in substantial risk of harm to the children, contrary to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21c(4)(a). In so doing, the court denied C.P.'s request to suspend judgment pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.51a and -8.52. On appeal, we affirmed that part of the order determining abuse or neglect.
However, we vacated the judgment and remanded for reconsideration of C.P.'s request to suspend judgment. In vacating the judgment and remanding, we reasoned:
Lastly, C.P. argues that the trial judge erred in denying her application for suspension of the judgment of abuse and neglect, contending that the judge incorrectly applied the four-prong standard of N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. C.R., 387 N.J. Super. 363, 375 (Ch. Div. 2006). C.P. asserts that the judge placed too much emphasis on his determination that the facts on which the complaint was based were "too serious," while ignoring the other three prongs of C.R. Because we agree that the trial judge did not fully consider each prong of the C.R. test, we vacate that part of the order of October 26, 2006, which denied C.P.'s application for suspension of the judgment; and remand the matter to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.51a provides that at the conclusion of a dispositional hearing, the court is to enter an order of disposition, which may include "suspending judgment in accord with [N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.52]." N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.52 provides:
a. The court shall define permissible terms and conditions of a suspended judgment. These terms and conditions shall relate to the acts of commission or omission of the parent or guardian.
b. The maximum duration of any term or condition of a suspended judgment shall be 1 year, unless the court finds at the conclusion of that period, upon a hearing, that exceptional circumstances required an extension thereof for an additional year.
In determining whether a judgment should be suspended, the trial court in C.R. set four factors that a court should consider: "(1) defendant's prior history; (2) seriousness of the offense; (3) defendant's remorse and acknowledgement of the abusive/neglectful nature of his or her act; and (4) defendant's amenability to correction, including compliance with court-ordered services, treatment, and his or her efforts in rehabilitating the relationship with the child[ren]." C.R., supra, 387 N.J. Super. at 375. Although we ...