October 25, 2011
NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF Q.L., A MINOR.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, Docket No. FG-07-149-01.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 18, 2011 -
Before Judges Fisher, Baxter and Nugent.
D.D.L. appeals from an October 6, 2010 Family Part order that terminated his parental rights to his daughter Q.L., who was born in 1997. He maintains that the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence the four statutory prongs contained in N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a). After considering D.D.L.'s arguments, the evidence presented to the trial court and the judge's findings of fact and conclusions of law, we affirm.
We will not recite in detail the history of DYFS's involvement with D.D.L. and Q.L. Instead, we incorporate by reference the factual findings and legal conclusions contained in Judge Callahan's comprehensive and well-reasoned oral opinion of October 6, 2010. We add only the following comments. Q.L. has never lived with her father. For the first fifteen months of her life, Q.L. lived with her mother L.P., until L.P.'s inability to resolve her drug addiction caused DYFS to remove Q.L. from L.P.'s custody and place her in foster care in June 1998.*fn1
On October 8, 1998, when Q.L. was eighteen months old, D.D.L. was arrested on a drug charge, beginning what was to become a protracted period of incarceration that will not end until Q.L. is eighteen years old. In particular, D.D.L. was incarcerated on October 8, 1998 in default of bail, pled guilty to distribution of a controlled dangerous substance within 1000 feet of a school and was sentenced on December 10, 1999 to a three-year term of imprisonment with a twenty-month period of parole ineligibility. Shortly after his release from prison on the drug charge, defendant was arrested on charges of armed robbery, eluding police, receiving stolen property, attempted murder and resisting arrest. After a jury trial, D.D.L. was convicted on all but the attempted murder charge, and was sentenced on January 23, 2001 to a seventeen-year term of imprisonment, subject to the eighty-five percent parole ineligibility term required by N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2. Defendant will not be eligible for parole until June 2015, at which time Q.L. will be eighteen years old.
While incarcerated, D.D.L. has sent Q.L. occasional letters and photographs, but she has resisted DYFS's efforts to arrange visits with her father in prison because "it would be too stressful for her" to visit him there. Through the years, DYFS attempted to place Q.L. with paternal relatives, but all of those placements were unsuccessful, including one that was terminated when the paternal uncle was found to have sexually abused Q.L. Judge Callahan carefully reviewed the evidence presented by DYFS, and thereafter concluded that it had satisfied by clear and convincing evidence all of the legal requirements for an order of guardianship. The judge's opinion tracks the statutory requirements of N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a), satisfies the standards established by In re Guardianship of K.H.O., 161 N.J. 337, 346-49 (1999), In re Guardianship of D.M.H., 161 N.J. 365, 378-84 (1999), and N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. A.W., 103 N.J. 591, 599-611 (1986), and is supported by the record, In re Guardianship of J.N.H., 172 N.J. 440, 472 (2002).
Moreover, Judge Callahan carefully considered the standards articulated by the Court in New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. L.A.S., 134 N.J. 127, 138-39 (1993), when he found that D.D.L. did not have a pre-incarceration connection to Q.L., she was not able to rely on him as a parent because he contacted her only once in the last four years, none of the programs D.D.L. attended while incarcerated dealt with parenting skills, and D.D.L. will be incarcerated throughout Q.L.'s entire childhood, thereby denying her the permanency and stability to which she is entitled.
The undisputed testimony in the record establishes that, starting from the time Q.L. was fifteen months old, D.D.L. has been absent from Q.L.'s life, and will remain so until she reaches her eighteenth birthday. By his absence from Q.L.'s life, D.D.L. has failed in one of the most basic responsibilities of a parent, namely providing the ongoing care, sustenance and permanency that Q.L. deserves, thereby justifying the termination of his parental rights. N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. C.S., 367 N.J. Super. 76, 114 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 180 N.J. 456 (2004).