On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Camden County, Docket No. FG-04-87-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted September 22, 2010
Before Judges Fisher and Sapp-Peterson.
In May 2007, the Division of Youth and Family Services (the Division) executed an emergency removal of three children --S.P.R., IV (born August 12, 2004); A.L.R. (born September 12, 2005); and C.J.R. (born November 22, 2006) -- because they were living with their mother in a home that had no electricity; the children were found sleeping on pallets. Their father was incarcerated. The children were placed with their maternal grandmother.
Neither parent had attended any of the court-ordered services by the time of a permanency hearing in April 2008. Nevertheless, the Division requested and the court granted a three-month extension of the status quo in order to provide the father, who had been released from prison, with an opportunity to engage in the services provided. In August 2008, even though neither parent was in compliance with the services previously ordered, and even though the father had been reincarcerated, the judge rejected the Division's plan of seeking termination and provided the parents with additional time. The children's father had been released from prison by the time of a third permanency hearing in October 2008. This time -- because "neither parent ha[d] completed services," the children's father "ha[d] been persistently incarcerated," and the Division had expended reasonable efforts to reunify the family by offering substance abuse and psychological evaluations, anger management and domestic violence classes, and therapy -- the judge approved the Division's permanency plan of terminating parental rights so the maternal grandmother could adopt the children.
The guardianship complaint was filed in December 2008. Psychological evaluations and bonding evaluations were ordered and completed by May 2009. The guardianship trial commenced on May 28, 2009. On the third day of trial, defendant J.L.W. --the children's mother -- voluntarily surrendered her parental rights. After considering all the evidence developed during the four-day trial, the trial judge rendered a written decision in which she concluded it was in the children's best interests to terminate the parental rights of defendant S.P.R., III, the children's father (defendant).
Defendant appealed, raising the following issues for our determination:
I. THE TRIAL COURT'S TERMINATION OF THE FATHER'S PARENTAL RIGHTS WAS AGAINST THE WEIGHT OF ADMITTED EVIDENCE AND TESTIMONY.
A. The Trial Court Erred in Concluding that DYFS Had Demonstrated, By Clear And Convincing Evidence, That the Father's Relationship With His Chi[l]dren Has Caused or Will Cause Enduring Harm.
B. The Trial Court Erred in Concluding that DYFS Had Demonstrated, By Clear and Convincing Evidence, That It Had Made Reasonable Efforts to Provide Services to The Father.
C. The Trial Court Erred in Failing to Adequately Consider Alternatives to Termination of Parental Rights.
D. The Trial Court Erred in Concluding that DYFS Had Demonstrated, by Clear and Convincing Evidence, that the Termination of the Father's Parental ...