On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Morris County, Docket No. FG-14-35-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Axelrad, Fisher and Espinosa.
Defendant S.W. ("Samantha")*fn1 appeals from an order terminating her parental rights to two of her three children. We affirm, substantially for the reasons set forth by Judge Thomas Critchley in his oral decision on December 16, 2008.
We adopt Judge Critchley's factual findings and add only the following salient facts.
Samantha and C.P., Jr. ("Caleb")*fn2 are the biological parents of three children: M.P. ("Mary"), born March 18, 2004, C.P. ("Cathy"), born May 3, 2005, and a third child who was born after this litigation was commenced and is not a part of this action. Samantha and Caleb were never married and rarely cohabited. Each of them has an established history of substance abuse and only intermittent, limited success at achieving sobriety. Their relationship was volatile, marked by incidents of domestic violence and interventions by police and the Division of Youth and Family Services ("DYFS").
DYFS had its first involvement in this case before Mary was even born, when Caleb's mother contacted DYFS to report that Samantha was drinking heavily while pregnant. Samantha was taken to a hospital and found to have a very high blood alcohol level. She was referred to and attended an alcohol treatment program but declined further services from DYFS.
When Mary was just six weeks old, the police were summoned to the residence being shared by Samantha and Caleb to resolve a physical altercation prompted by Samantha's drinking. Samantha complied with DYFS's recommendation that she and Caleb obtain psychological, psychiatric and substance abuse evaluations. Mary stayed with her paternal grandparents until she was returned to Samantha approximately two weeks later. This was the first of several placements, both formal and informal, with the paternal grandparents.
Police were called to resolve another physical altercation between Samantha and Caleb in August 2004. Although Samantha was now two months pregnant with her second daughter, both she and Caleb were intoxicated.
On November 20, 2004, police picked up Samantha, who was extremely intoxicated, walking down the side of a road, carrying Mary. This led to the first of three emergency removals pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.29 and 9:6-8.30. Following each of these removals, the allegation of neglect was substantiated against Samantha. After the first removal, the court placed Mary in her father's care. Samantha was granted only supervised visitation until March 17, 2005, when unsupervised visitation was permitted. She was referred to parenting classes and substance abuse treatment, which she completed. However, her individual therapy sessions were discontinued due to her failure to make progress in taking responsibility for her actions.
When Cathy was born, she was placed in Samantha's physical custody; Mary remained in her father's physical custody and both children remained in the care and supervision of DYFS. During the period from Cathy's birth until November 2005, there were ongoing conflicts between Samantha and Caleb regarding visitation issues and the fact that Caleb gave the children formula despite Samantha's desire that they only receive breast milk. At DYFS's recommendation, they agreed to participate in a family evaluation program. The parties made progress in mediation and agreed to sharing joint physical custody, with Mary living with Caleb and Cathy living with Samantha. When it appeared that the family had made satisfactory progress, the pending action was dismissed at DYFS's recommendation on September 22, 2005.
This progress was short lived. On November 6, 2005, when both children were staying with Caleb, Samantha became intoxicated, climbed through a window in Caleb's house and passed out on his bed. The police were called that night and again the next day when Samantha claimed that Caleb would not let her see the children. During the period from this incident until the second emergency removal on August 8, 2006, there were repeated reports that ...