On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Camden County, Docket No. FG-04-98-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Axelrad and Lihotz.
H.L.D., the mother, and R.H., the father, appeal from a July 15, 2010 order of the Family Part terminating their parental rights to their then seventeen-month-old son, R.J.H., and awarding guardianship to the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) for the purposes of effectuating the child's adoption. On appeal, both parents argue DYFS did not prove by clear and convincing evidence the third statutory prong required to establish that their son's best interests require severance of their parental ties, and the father also challenges the fourth statutory prong. We note the Law Guardian supports termination of both parents' parental rights to R.J.H.
After considering the record and briefs in light of the applicable law, we are satisfied the trial judge's findings and conclusions are firmly supported by substantial, credible evidence in the record as a whole. See, e.g., N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. A.R.G., 361 N.J. Super. 46, 78 (App. Div. 2003), aff'd in part, modified in part and remanded, 179 N.J. 264 (2004), certif. denied, 186 N.J. 603 (2006). We affirm.
We need not describe in detail the many facts the trial court considered in its determination. We instead provide a brief summary of the cogent facts we considered in concluding the judge's findings were well-supported by the record.
The following testimony and evidence were presented during the two-day trial conducted on July 14 and 15, 2010. DYFS presented the factual testimony of Tara Sinclair, a caseworker, and the expert testimony of Frank J. Schwoeri, Ph.D., who conducted a psychological evaluation of both parents and bonding evaluations of R.J.H. with H.L.D. and with his foster parents. Neither parent appeared at trial, nor did they present any witnesses on their behalf.
R.J.H., born on February 23, 2009, is H.L.D.'s tenth child and R.H.'s third child with her. Their parental rights were terminated as to their two other children in common. H.L.D.'s parental rights to two of her other children were also terminated and the others either live with relatives or have reached the age of majority.
DYFS began involvement with H.L.D. in 1991 because of a substantiated physical abuse of her first-born child. Fifteen referrals ensued regarding the family, five of which were substantiated. In July 2007, DYFS substantiated physical abuse by R.H. for hitting two of the children with a belt. In December 2007, H.L.D. reported that R.H. had beat another of their children with a belt and had thrown the child to the floor, causing facial injury. H.L.D. claimed she was afraid of R.H. because he beat her and the children and threatened them with a gun. H.L.D. was informed of the procedure for filing a restraining order and the caseworker developed a safety protection plan for her. R.H. was also informed he was not to return to H.L.D.'s home. Nevertheless, when the caseworker returned to the home a week later, she learned that R.H. had not left the home. The four children were removed that evening.
DYFS arranged for H.L.D. to engage in therapy services, domestic violence counseling, and parenting classes. H.L.D. was partially compliant but acknowledged she continued to see R.H. and could not understand why she could not separate from him. She eventually obtained a restraining order against R.H. on August 13, 2008, alleging he had punched her in the face, threatened to kill her and a DYFS worker, and harassed her. When R.J.H. was born in February 2009, a hospital social worker reported that H.L.D. had told the staff the man who came to visit was R.H., which both she and R.H. later denied. R.J.H. was placed with his current foster parents when he was approximately three weeks old.
H.L.D. was again referred to a variety of programs. She missed almost half of the parenting sessions and made no progress. The instructor noted that H.L.D. was not focused on regaining custody but on her abusive relationship with R.H. and was unable to recognize the negative impact of that relationship on her children. On December 1, 2009, the court found DYFS had made reasonable efforts to provide services but neither parent was compliant. Both parents ...