On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Camden County, Docket No. FG-04-96-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 6, 2010
Before Judges Fuentes, Gilroy and Ashrafi.
Appellant H.D., the biological mother of M.P., a girl born December 1998; A.D., a boy born October 2001; T.D., a girl born June 2003; and I.H., a girl born February 2007, appeals from the Family Part order of July 16, 2009, that terminated her parental rights to her four children. H.D. has six other children, only one of whom at time of trial remained in H.D.'s custody. None of those six children are subject of this guardianship proceeding. L.P. and S.E., the biological fathers of M.P. and A.D., respectively, executed voluntary surrenders of their parental rights. R.H., the biological father of T.D. and I.H., defaulted in the termination action. Although the July 16, 2009 order also terminated the three biological fathers' rights to their respective children, none of the fathers have appealed. We affirm.
"The right of parents to raise their children is a fundamental one of constitutional magnitude." N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. G.L., 191 N.J. 596, 605 (2007). That right, however, is not without limits. In re Guardianship of K.H.O., 161 N.J. 337, 347 (1999). "That parental right must, at times, give way to the State's parens patriae obligation to ensure that children will be properly protected from serious physical or psychological harm." In re D.C. and D.C., Minors, ___ N.J. ____, ___ (2010) (slip op. at 34) (quoting Watkins v. Nelson, 163 N.J. 235, 246 (2000)). "Presumptions of parental unfitness may not be used in proceedings challenging parental rights and all doubts must be resolved against termination of parental rights." K.H.O., supra, 161 N.J. at 347 (internal citations omitted).
Termination actions brought under N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1a are decided under the four-prong "best interests of the child" standard, first enunciated by the Court in New Jersey Division of Youth & Family Services v. A.W., 103 N.J. 591, 604-11 (1986), and now codified in N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1a. Under that standard, parental rights may be terminated only when:
(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 [D]ivision 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 "four [prongs] enumerated in the best interests standard are not discrete and separate; they relate to and overlap with one another to provide a comprehensive standard that identifies a child's best interests." K.H.O., supra, 161 N.J. at 348. Termination actions must be proved by clear and convincing ...