On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Passaic County, Docket Nos. FG-16-79-08 and FG-16-51-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted: January 5, 2011 - Decided: Before Judges Fisher, Sapp-Peterson and Fasciale.
These consolidated appeals concern two guardianship matters that were resolved in a single trial. In one action, defendant L.W. appeals the termination of her parental rights to I.B, who was born on April 22, 2006.*fn1 In the other action, L.W. and defendant P.H. appeal the termination of their parental rights to M.J.M.S.H, who was born on July 1, 2007. L.W. and P.H. contend that the evidence was insufficient to warrant termination. We disagree and affirm.
When I.B. was born two months prematurely, the Division of Youth and Family Services (the Division) received a referral from a social worker at the hospital that L.W. was "behaving oddly." It was reported that L.W. threatened the nurses and gagged I.B. while feeding her with a bottle. The Division removed I.B. from L.W.'s care a few weeks after her birth because I.B.'s life was in imminent danger. I.B. was placed initially in a specialized foster family because she was classified as medically fragile. She was later declassified and placed with her paternal aunt, D.B., where she remains today.
D.B. is interested in adopting I.B. The judge ordered L.W. to undergo mental health evaluations and complete a parenting skills program, and permitted L.W. supervised visitation one hour a week.
At the fact-finding proceeding four months later, L.W. stipulated that "her mental health issues at the time of the birth of [I.B.] made it impossible to place [I.B.] in her care at that time." The judge required L.W. to receive psychiatric treatment, ordered continued attendance at parenting skills classes, and increased supervised visitation to two hours a week.
Numerous mental health professionals evaluated L.W. and diagnosed her with a paranoid and schizoid personality disorder, adjustment disorder, narcissism, and borderline intelligence.
L.W. also has a history of taking medication sporadically. The Division removed M.J.M.S.H. from his mother, L.W., within two days of his birth. His father, P.H., was incarcerated on drug charges.*fn2 L.W. continued to suffer from mental health issues. The judge concluded that the removal was warranted to avoid risk to M.J.M.S.H.'s life, and found that L.W. "may be psychiatrically incapable of caring for [M.J.M.S.H.]." The judge permitted L.W. supervised visitation with M.J.M.S.H. twice a week. When M.J.M.S.H. was four years old he was placed with his current caretaker who wants to adopt him.
The court conducted a fact-finding hearing concerning M.J.M.S.H.The judge found that L.W. posed a risk to her son "based on her mental health issues," and that P.H. "was unavailable to plan for his child due to his incarceration."
The guardianship actions for I.B. and M.J.M.S.H. were commenced in 2008 and 2009 respectively. The six-day trial occurred on nonconsecutive dates between June 2009 and November 2009. In rendering his decision, the trial judge employed the four-prong test contained in N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a), which requires that the Division prove by clear and convincing evidence that:
(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 ...