October 7, 2010
NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF J.C., S.C., AND E.C., MINORS.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Passaic County, Docket No. FG-16-48-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted September 28, 2010
Before Judges Parrillo and Espinosa.
F.C. is the biological father of S.C. and J.C. and the stepfather of E.C. He appeals from an order that terminated his parental rights as to S.C. and J.C.*fn1 We affirm.
The salient facts relevant to this appeal can be summarized as follows:
F.C. was married to L.C., the mother of the three girls, in April 2001. F.C. and L.C. separated in March 2008. There were various referrals to the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) during this time, all of which were determined to be unfounded.
On April 18, 2008, L.C. was found murdered approximately five hundred feet from her apartment. Police followed the trail of blood and hair to the apartment building, where they found E.C., S.C., and J.C. E.C. told them, "daddy killed my mommy.
He chopped her with an ax." At the time of their mother's murder, E.C. was seven years old, S.C. was four years old, and J.C. was less than one year old. A referral was made to DYFS.
In the interviews conducted by the Passaic County Prosecutor's Office, both E.C. and S.C. described witnessing F.C. stab their mother. All three children were placed in foster care. Both E.C. and S.C. were subsequently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. E.C. expressed her fear that F.C. would harm her. During her evaluation, S.C. was asked if she had any problems and answered, "the problem is my dad killed my mother." Both children received therapy. In June 2008, their maternal grandmother moved from the Dominican Republic into the home of the foster parents to become the primary caretaker for the children.
After a psychological evaluation of the maternal grandmother, Manuel Iser, Psy.D., opined that the maternal grandmother should be awarded custody of the three girls. Because F.C. requested that the children be placed with his parents, who resided in the Dominican Republic, an International Home Study was conducted. F.C.'s parents admitted that F.C.'s request was motivated, in part, by his belief that if the girls were placed with them, his criminal sentence would be lower.
At the time of the guardianship trial, F.C. was awaiting trial for L.C.'s homicide. The court heard testimony from Claret Sanchez, the DYFS caseworker, and Ernesto Perdomo, Ph.D, who had been asked to conduct a psychological evaluation of F.C.
Sanchez testified that the three children are very attached to their grandmother and that both E.C. and S.C. told her that they want to reside with their grandmother. Sanchez stated that it was DYFS's plan for the three girls to be adopted by their maternal grandmother.
Dr. Perdomo testified that, based upon his review of the records and interview of F.C., he formed the following conclusions concerning F.C.'s ability to parent the children:
Based on the history of the case and a previous complaint of domestic violence, as well as the indictment that he has, it is my professional opinion that he's a[n] individual that is impulsive and prone to violence and it would be difficult for him to - that he was not [in] shape, because of the case in court, to parent the children, and even without that case, the fact that he's prone to violence and has a history of domestic violence since December, 2005, it would be very difficult [for] him to provide for parenting.
In an oral opinion, the trial court set forth its reasons for terminating F.C.'s parental rights. In this appeal, F.C. raises the following issues:
THE JUDGMENT OF GUARDIANSHIP SHOULD BE REVERSED BECAUSE THE DEFENDANT FATHER WAS DENIED HIS REQUEST FOR COUNSEL OF HIS CHOICE.
THE ORDER TERMINATING THE DEFENDANT'S PARENTAL RIGHTS MUST BE REVERSED BECAUSE THE COURT BASED ITS DECISION UPON AN IMPROPER NEGATIVE INFERENCE THAT THE DEFENDANT REFUSED TO INCRIMINATE HIMSELF DURING EVALUATION BY THE DIVISION'S EXPERT.
THE DECISION TO PERMANENTLY PLACE THE CHILDREN WITH THE MATERNAL GRANDMOTHER MUST BE REVERSED BECAUSE THE COURT WRONGLY BASED ITS DECISION ON DOUBLE HEARSAY TESTIMONY BY THE CASE WORKER (NOT RAISED BELOW).
Based upon our review of the record and briefs, we are satisfied that none of these arguments have sufficient merit to warrant discussion in a written opinion, R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E), beyond the following brief comments.
N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a) authorizes DYFS to petition for the termination of parental rights in the "best interests of the child" if the following standards are met:
(1) The child's safety, health or development has been or will continue to be endangered by the parental relationship;
(2) The parent is unwilling or unable to eliminate the harm facing the child or is unable or unwilling to provide a safe and stable home for the child and the delay of permanent placement will add to the harm. Such harm may include evidence that separating the child from his resource family parents would cause serious and enduring emotional or psychological harm to the child;
(3) The division has made reasonable efforts to provide services to help the parent correct the circumstances which led to the child's placement outside the home and the court has considered alternatives to termination of parental rights; and
(4) Termination of parental rights will not do more harm than good.
The trial court carefully considered each of these prongs and cited adequate, substantial evidence in the record to support its conclusion that each of the prongs had been proven by clear and convincing evidence.
A trial court decision to terminate parental rights is subject to limited appellate review. N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. G.L., 191 N.J. 596, 605 (2007). If supported by "adequate, substantial, and credible evidence in the record," the trial court's findings of fact are entitled to deference. Ibid. See also Cesare v. Cesare, 154 N.J. 394, 413 (1998). The family court's decision to terminate parental rights will not be disturbed "when there is substantial credible evidence in the record to support the court's findings." N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. E.P., 196 N.J. 88, 104 (2008).
Because we find that the trial court's findings are supported by adequate, substantial and credible evidence in the record, we affirm, substantially for the reasons set forth in the trial court's oral decision.