On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Hudson County, Docket No. FN-09-149-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted September 14, 2009
Before Judges Rodríguez and Yannotti.
Defendant F.R. appeals from an order entered by the Family Part on September 5, 2008, dismissing this action for lack of jurisdiction and returning custody of J.R. to his maternal grandmother, G.R. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
This appeal arises from the following facts. J.R. was born in New Jersey on August 6, 1999. S.R. is the child's biological mother. J.R.'s birth certificate apparently does not identify a biological father; however, defendant is J.R.'s putative biological father. When J.R. was eight months old, S.R. sent him to live in the Dominican Republic with G.R.
It appears that in December 2005, S.R. and G.R. entered into a guardianship agreement which placed J.R. in G.R.'s care; permitted J.R. to enter and leave the Dominican Republic with G.R.; and allowed S.R. to visit the child when she chooses. In March 2008, S.R. and G.R. requested that the juvenile court of the Santiago Judicial District in the Dominican Republic officially confirm the guardianship agreement. It is undisputed that defendant was not provided with notice of that proceeding. On April 14, 2008, the Dominican Republic court granted the application.
In July 2008, G.R. traveled to the United States with J.R., and the child stayed with his mother, who was residing at the time in Jersey City. Defendant was living in North Carolina and he traveled to New Jersey to visit with J.R. On August 10, 2008, S.R. died as a result of gunshot wounds inflicted during an argument with her paramour. The Jersey City police took J.R. to the Jersey City Medical Center for his safety.
The police referred the matter to the Division of Youth and Family Services (the "Division"), which executed an emergency removal of the child. The Division contacted certain family members but was unable to approve them for emergency placement. J.R. therefore was placed in a Division-approved foster home.
J.R.'s maternal great-grandmother contacted the Division. She said that G.R. had custody of J.R. and inquired what was necessary to return the child to G.R.'s custody. The Division advised that G.R. would have to provide documentation establishing that she had custody of the child. One of the Division's investigators obtained contact information about defendant, and on August 11, 2008, the investigator spoke with him. Defendant informed the investigator that he and his wife were interested in taking custody of J.R.
On August 12, 2008, the Division filed a verified complaint for custody with the Family Part and sought the issuance of an order authorizing J.R.'s emergency placement. The Division informed the court that its plan was to return the child to defendant but it first had to undertake a background check of him. The Division also informed the court that J.R. had been moved to the home of his maternal aunt.
The court entered an order dated August 12, 2008, which stated that J.R.'s emergency removal was required due to imminent danger to his life, safety or health. In addition, the order required defendant to show cause why J.R. should not remain in the Division's custody.
The parties returned to court on September 3, 2008, after the Division learned that a court in the Dominican Republic had previously granted G.R. custody of J.R. The Division informed the court that it was waiting for official confirmation ...