May 13, 2010
IN THE MATTER OF THE ADOPTION OF A CHILD BY L.W. AND L.W.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Ocean County, Docket No. FA-15-042-08I.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued April 27, 2010
Before Judges Skillman, Gilroy and Simonelli.
In this private adoption case, defendant J.S., the biological father of A.W., born in December 2006, appeals from the June 25, 2009 final judgment of the Family Part terminating his parental rights to the child and finalizing the child's adoption by L.W. and L.W. (the Watsons).*fn1 The judgment also terminated the parental rights of the child's biological mother, M.W., who withdrew her appeal. We affirm.
We will not recite in detail the history of this matter. Instead, we incorporate by reference the factual findings and legal conclusions contained in Judge Ronald Hoffman's oral opinion rendered June 24, 2009. We add only the following comments.
We are satisfied that J.S. "substantially failed to perform the regular and expected parental functions of care and support of [A.W.] although able to do so," and that termination of J.S.'s parental rights and adoption by the Watsons is in the child's best interest. N.J.S.A. 9:3-46a(1). Prior to A.W.'s birth, J.S. "ordered" M.W. not to disclose that he was the child's father because he did not want another child and wanted nothing to do with this child.*fn2 J.S. also told M.W. that he did not care whether she aborted the child or placed the child for adoption, and he knew pre- and post-birth that A.W. would be placed for adoption with the Watsons. Although we acknowledge there was a delay in the court's order for supervised visitation with A.W., the delay was attributable to J.S.'s ordering M.W. not to tell anyone he was the child's father. Also, at a hearing to establish paternity, and again at a custody hearing, the court instructed J.S. to contact the Watsons and arrange for visitation independent of any court order.
On both occasions, J.S. failed to follow the court's instructions. Moreover, after commencement of court-ordered visitation, J.S. did nothing to maintain a relationship with A.W. such that the child would perceive J.S. as his father. J.S. never inquired about the child's well-being or provided financial support despite his ability to do so. He also refused to communicate with the Watsons. Except for J.S.'s sheer speculation, the record is devoid of evidence that the Watsons would have refused to communicate with him or that they did anything to prevent him from performing the regular and expected parental functions of care and support for A.W.
After an eight day bench trial, Judge Hoffman painstakingly reviewed the evidence, including undisputed expert psychological and bonding evidence, and concluded that it showed clearly and convincingly that J.S. failed to perform the regular and expected parental functions of care and support of A.W. although able to do so, and that termination of J.S.'s parental rights and A.W.'s adoption by the Watsons was in the child's best interest. The judge also rejected, as do we, J.S.'s implication that the Watsons' violation of N.J.S.A. 9:3-44 and N.J.S.A. 9:3-55 is fatal to their case. See In re Adoption of a Child by D.M.H., 135 N.J. 473, 490 (1994); In re Adoption of a Child by N.P. and F.P., 165 N.J. Super. 591, 597 (Law Div. 1979).
The judge's opinion tracks the statutory requirements of N.J.S.A. 9:3-46a(1), and accords with In re Adoption of Children by G.P.B., Jr., 161 N.J. 396 (1999). His factual and credibility findings are amply supported by the record, and we discern no reason to disturb them. In re Adoption of Child by J.D.S., 353 N.J. Super. 378, 394 (App. Div. 2002), certif. denied, 175 N.J. 432 (2003). We affirm substantially for the reasons expressed in Judge Hoffman's comprehensive, well-reasoned opinion rendered June 24, 2009.