On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Union County, Docket No. FG-20-36-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted: September 15, 2010
Before Judges Axelrad, Lihotz and J. N. Harris.
R.A.D., the mother, and C.R.M., Sr., the father, appeal from a Family Part order of September 11, 2009, terminating their parental rights and awarding guardianship of their children to the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) following a contested trial.*fn1 R.A.D. seeks review of the judgment of termination as to all three of her children - her two daughters, M.S.R. and J.R.D., then seven and one-half years old and six years old, respectively, and her son, C.R.M., Jr., then two and one-half years old. C.R.M., Sr. only seeks review of the judgment of termination regarding his son, C.R.M., Jr.*fn2
On appeal, both parents contend that DYFS did not prove by clear and convincing evidence the requisite statutory prongs to establish that the best interests of their children required severance of their parental ties. We note that the Law Guardian supports termination of both parents' rights to their children. After considering the record and briefs in light of the applicable law, we are satisfied the trial judge's findings and conclusions are firmly supported by substantial, credible evidence in the record as a whole. See, e.g., N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. A.R.G., 361 N.J. Super. 46, 78 (App. Div. 2003), aff'd in part, modified in part, and remanded, 179 N.J. 264 (2004), certif. denied, 186 N.J. 603 (2006).
We need not describe in detail the many facts which the trial court considered. We instead provide a brief summary of the cogent facts we considered in concluding that the judge's findings were well-supported by the evidence.
The following testimony and evidence were presented at the trial that took place over ten days, commencing on May 26, 2009, and concluding on September 11, 2009, with the court's oral decision. DYFS presented the testimony of Kattia Olson, the caseworker; Dr. Barry Katz, a psychologist who evaluated both parents and performed bonding evaluations of R.A.D. and C.R.M., Sr. with the children; and Detectives Athanasios Mikros, Vincent Napoli and James Diorio and Officers Peter Novack and Paulo Fidalgo of the Elizabeth Police Department. Only R.A.D. testified. C.R.M., Sr. presented the testimony of his sister, B.M., and Dr. Richard Klein, a psychologist who performed a bonding evaluation of C.R.M., Sr. and his son.
DYFS initially became involved with this family in 2006, noting that R.A.D. tested positive for marijuana on May l2, June 2, July 24 and December 12, 2006, and on March 26, 2007, and positive for cocaine on March 12, 2007. The referrals that gave rise to DYFS' filing of an abuse and neglect complaint against R.A.D. and C.R.M., Sr. and the children's removal and placement in foster care on August 9, 2007 involved: (1) R.A.D. being arrested on June l5, 2007 for possession of marijuana at her public housing apartment, also resulting in an eviction; (2) an incident of domestic violence on July 13, 2007 between R.A.D. and C.R.M., Sr. and initiated by R.A.D., for which she was charged with assault with a deadly weapon and subsequently received a one-year probationary sentence; and (3) R.A.D. failing to timely refill J.R.D.'s prescription, resulting in the child having a seizure and being hospitalized. On the review date a week later, both parents submitted to urine screens and tested positive for THC.
During a psychological evaluation initiated by DYFS in October 2007, C.R.M., Sr. reported that he was not living with R.A.D. and his son at the time of his son's removal. Although he generally spent every day, and often overnight, at R.A.D.'s home, C.R.M., Sr. denied he was aware of her drug use. C.R.M., Sr. acknowledged that he had been incarcerated from l99l until l996 for selling cocaine, and again from l998 until 2001 for selling drugs, but represented that he had ceased dealing drugs after his last release from prison.
Around the same time, R.A.D. reported to the psychologist that she began using marijuana in 2004, which she used approximately three times a day when she "had the money." She also sold cocaine for approximately three years until about 2005, when she was convicted of possession of crack cocaine with intent to distribute and given a three-year probationary sentence. R.A.D. expressed that she did not think her drug use or sale of drugs placed her children at risk as she did not sell the drugs when her children were at home.
DYFS filed a complaint for guardianship of the children on October l5, 2008, primarily on the basis that R.A.D. continued to relapse and remained angry, hostile and resistant during her counseling sessions at Family and Children's Services and C.R.M., Sr. had no stable residence. The parties had completed a variety of anger management, parenting skills, and family therapy programs, and fairly consistently exercised their weekly therapeutic visits with the children. Although R.A.D. had completed ...