On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, Docket No. FG-07-123-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Skillman and Fuentes.
Defendant H.B. appeals from a final judgment terminating his parental rights to K.A.H.
K.A.H. was born prematurely on September 29, 2006, testing positive for opiates. The mother, L.H., admitted to being a heroin user and using on the day of delivery.
Shortly after K.A.H.'s birth, on October 11, 2006, the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) filed a complaint seeking custody of K.A.H. That same day, the court entered an order to show cause placing K.A.H. in DYFS's custody. The court found that removal of K.A.H. was required due to the imminent danger to his life, safety, and health posed by his exposure to opiates and lack of prenatal care.
Upon K.A.H.'s discharge from the hospital on October 26, 2006, DYFS placed him in foster care with L.H.'s cousin, M.C., in whose care he has remained since. M.C. and his fiancee plan to adopt K.A.H.
Although L.H. was living with H.B. at the time of K.A.H.'s birth, she initially identified another man as K.A.H.'s father. As a result of a paternity test, that man was determined not to be K.A.H.'s father approximately a year after the child's birth.
A few months later, on January 9, 2008, L.H. identified H.B. as K.A.H.'s possible father. H.B. responded by requesting a paternity test. Thereafter, DYFS scheduled paternity tests for H.B. on four different occasions, which H.B. either failed to appear for or cancelled.
Finally, on June 30, 2008, approximately six months after L.H. had identified him as K.A.H.'s possible father, H.B. appeared for a paternity test. As the caseworker walked with H.B. to the test, H.B. indicated that if he was found to be the father, he would not be able to care for the child and would be willing to surrender his rights to M.C. The paternity test results, issued July 7, 2008, revealed a 99.84% probability that H.B. is K.A.H.'s biological father. Sometime thereafter, around K.A.H.'s second birthday, H.B. had his first visitation with the child.
Before H.B.'s paternity of K.A.H. was determined, L.H. executed a surrender of her parental rights so that K.A.H. could be adopted by M.C. However, H.B. refused to surrender his parental rights and strenuously opposed DYFS's action for the termination of his parental rights.
H.B. has a history of severe mental illness, and both he and the experts who testified at the trial of DYFS's action for termination of H.B.'s parental rights agreed that he is incapable of being K.A.H.'s primary caregiver due to his diagnosed schizophrenia. Nevertheless, he offered his sister as an alternative custodial ...