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New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. L.M.E.

December 13, 2010

NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
L.M.E., DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.
IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF K.R.E., MINOR.



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Sussex County, FG-19-14-09.

Per curiam.

RECORD IMPOUNDED

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted November 29, 2010

Before Judges Reisner, Sabatino and Alvarez.

Defendant L.M.E. appeals from a September 11, 2009 order terminating her parental rights to her daughter K.R.E., who was born on October 29, 2003. We affirm, substantially for the reasons set forth in Judge Farber's comprehensive seventy-four page oral opinion issued on September 11, 2009.

I

The unfortunate facts of this case are set forth at length in Judge Farber's opinion, and need not be repeated here in the same detail. Based on our independent review of the trial record, we outline the most pertinent facts.

L.M.E. has a lengthy and persistent substance abuse problem. She is also bipolar and has a history of abusive relationships with men. Her daughter, K.R.E., was first removed from the custody of L.M.E. and her paramour (who is not the child's father), in 2006. In this incident, the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS or Division) was called to the home, where the DYFS case workers found both adults intoxicated. The child had a bruise on her head and told the case workers that the paramour had thrown a cup at her head. After L.M.E. received substance abuse treatment, K.R.E. was returned to her in June 2007. The child was again removed in August when L.M.E. tested positive for alcohol, but was returned to live with her mother in September 2007.

L.M.E. had several relapses of substance abuse, and in February 2008, she was arrested for driving while intoxicated, with a blood alcohol level of .20. At this point, DYFS once again took physical custody of the child. L.M.E. was referred for inpatient drug treatment, but tested positive for opiates in April 2008, and was hospitalized for an opiate overdose in August 2008. At that point, she was also suicidal. In January 2009, L.M.E. was arrested for drug possession. In March 2009, she was again arrested, this time for possession of drug paraphernalia. While the guardianship trial was pending, in June 2009, the police were called to L.M.E.'s home because she was having a physical altercation with her boyfriend. She admitted to the police that she had been drinking.

Since September 2008, K.R.E. has been living with a foster family with whom she has bonded. As the foster father testified at the trial, the foster parents wish to adopt K.R.E., and they are also willing to allow the child to continue having visits with L.M.E. In unrebutted testimony, the State's expert psychologist, Dr. Mark Singer, opined that the child had a bond with both L.M.E. and her foster parents, but L.M.E. was not able to function as the child's parent. The child needed a permanent placement, and had a parent-child bond with her foster family. According to Dr. Singer, they have become her psychological parents. Dr. Singer opined that the child would do best if she were adopted by the foster parents but could continue visitation with L.M.E. The child's counselor, Greg Levine, likewise testified to her need for permanence.

Although relatives came forward at the time of the guardianship trial and offered to adopt K.R.E., their offers came too late.*fn1 By that time she had bonded with her foster parents and would suffer severe and enduring psychological harm if she were separated from them.

After considering each of the four prongs of the best interests test, as set forth in N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a), Judge Farber concluded that termination of ...


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