March 14, 2011
NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
E.T., DEFENDANT-APPELLANT, AND J.J., DEFENDANT.
IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF M.S.D. AND C.K.T., MINORS.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, Docket No. FG-07-12-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted February 3, 2011
Before Judges Fuentes, Gilroy and Ashrafi.
Defendant E.T. appeals from the final judgment of guardianship entered
by the Family Part terminating her parental rights to her daughters
M.S.D.,*fn1 now nine years old, and C.K.T.,*fn2
soon to be three years old. Defendant argues the court erred
in concluding that the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family
Services ("DYFS or Division") proved by clear and convincing evidence
the four elements codified in N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a). We affirm.
Defendant, who is now thirty-six years old, has been suffering from severe, chronic, and debilitating mental illness for most of her adult life. She has been diagnosed as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, as well as major depression disorder. We will not recite in detail the extensive history of hospitalizations and outpatient treatment efforts defendant has had in connection with her psychiatric problems. Nor is it necessary to describe the numerous contacts, interventions, and legal actions defendant and her children (especially the oldest child) have had with governmental child welfare agencies, both in this State and in the State of Georgia. Instead, we incorporate by reference the factual findings and conclusions of law made by Judge Callahan in his comprehensive oral opinion.
Based on the record developed before the trial court, we are satisfied that DYFS has presented overwhelming proof of defendant's inability to parent her two daughters. This record also documents the numerous services the Division made available to defendant to assist her in coping with her mental health problems and in developing a plan so she may safely care for her children. Unfortunately, defendant's mental illness remains a persistent obstacle to her and the Division's efforts to keep this family united. Against this record, Judge Callahan correctly found that DYFS had satisfied its obligation to provide services to defendant, and further concluded that it had met all of the legal requirements for an order of guardianship.
We discern no legal basis to disturb the trial court's decision. In re Guardianship of K.H.O., 161 N.J. 337 (1999); Rova Farms Resort, Inc. v. Investors Ins. Co. of Am., 65 N.J. 474, 484 (1974). Indeed, we have affirmed a judgment of guardianship under similar circumstances, noting that when a parent's mental illness renders her unable to safely care for her child, lack of moral culpability is not sufficient "to tip the scales" in her favor. In re Guardianship of A.G., 344 N.J. Super. 418, 438 (App. Div. 2001), certif. denied, 171 N.J. 44 (2002). We thus affirm substantially for the reasons expressed by Judge Callahan in his oral opinion delivered from the bench on December 7, 2009.