On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Bergen County, Docket No. FG-02-77-09.
RECORD IMPOUNDED NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted February 7, 2011 - Decided Before Judges Grall, LeWinn and Coburn.
N.C.M. is the biological mother of K.E. who was born in June 2006. She appeals from the April 21, 2010 judgment terminating her parental rights to the child. M.E., the child's natural father, voluntarily surrendered his parental rights, as noted in the same judgment.
Defendant contends that the trial judge erred in concluding that the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) had met the four-pronged best interests test for terminating parental rights set forth in N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a)(1) to (4), by clear and convincing evidence. We disagree and, therefore, affirm the judgment terminating defendant's parental rights.
Our review of the record convinces us that DYFS met each of the statutory standards by the requisite standard of proof. We briefly summarize the pertinent evidence upon which the trial judge based his decision.
DYFS was previously involved with defendant and M.E. in 2003, leading to the termination of their parental rights to a son, K.A.J., born in 2003. The first referral to DYFS on behalf of K.E. was in August 2007, at which time defendant was living in housing provided by a temporary rental assistance program for victims of domestic violence. No domestic violence was substantiated at that time; because of defendant's prior history and then-current unstable living situation, however, DYFS scheduled a psychological evaluation of defendant. Despite follow-up communication from DYFS and the provision of transportation, defendant canceled three appointments before attending an evaluation in January 2008. M.E. was also evaluated on this date. Following the evaluations, defendant advised DYFS that she was facing eviction from her apartment that day and had taken no steps to ensure that she had a place to stay with K.E.
Defendant's rental assistance at that apartment had been terminated due to her failure to comply with the rental assistance program's work activity requirement. Despite her eligibility for both transportation and child care, defendant claimed she was unable to work for those two reasons.
At some point, defendant moved in with an aunt in New York, with K.E. Because defendant's whereabouts were unknown to DYFS at that point, the agency filed an order to show cause, which resulted in an emergency removal of K.E. on January 15, 2008. DYFS obtained custody of K.E. and substantiated neglect of the child at that time, on the basis that defendant's noncompliance with the work requirements of the rental assistance program had caused her homelessness. After several temporary placements, K.E. was placed in the custody of her paternal grandfather, M.E., Sr., on November 26, 2008, where she remained as of the time of trial.
One evaluator, Heather Diamond, concluded that "both parents presented as immature, irresponsible, impulsive and manipulative adults with narcissistic traits." Diamond noted that defendant "acknowledged a significant history of physical aggression" by M.E., "but denied the presence of domestic violence." She further noted that defendant and M.E. are "financially dependent upon family and/or the government, and have a history of lifestyle instability," stating further that defendant "lost her housing assistance because she was not complying with their requirements. She also did not take proactive steps to maintain housing when informed of her eviction."
Diamond concluded that both defendant and M.E. "have a significant history of non-compliance with required services, as well as poor follow-through." Diamond concluded that neither defendant nor M.E. would "likely comply with any safety plans put in place by [DYFS] if they disagree with it. They will likely attempt to present as compliant while doing what they want on the sly."
Dr. Rachael Jewelewicz-Nelson conducted a psychological evaluation of defendant and bonding evaluations with defendant and with M.E., Sr., on behalf of DYFS. Defendant missed several scheduled appointments. Nelson concluded that defendant had "a dependent personality structure with narcissistic and histrionic traits." In Nelson's opinion, defendant "has unrealistic plans and goals for herself with regard to furthering her education, obtaining employment and housing, and sustaining an independent life as a single parent." Nelson found it unlikely that defendant could provide K.E. with a stable, consistent and secure home at present or in the near future.
The bonding evaluation disclosed that defendant had a bond with K.E., but that defendant acted more like a friend than a parent. Nelson opined that defendant would not be able to meet K.E.'s needs and, therefore, concluded that the termination of defendant's parental rights would not do more harm than good.
Nelson observed that M.E., Sr., was "calm, controlled, . . . attuned to [K.E.'s] moods . . . and eminently capable of meeting [her] needs." This was especially important because, in the doctor's opinion, K.E. required ...