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New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. J.M.E. and R.J.N.

November 22, 2011

NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
J.M.E. AND R.J.N., JR. DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.
IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF C.M.N., K.N.N. AND R.J.N., III, MINORS.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Gloucester County, Docket No. FG-08-35-08.

Per curiam.

RECORD IMPOUNDED

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted September 27, 2011

Before Judges Messano, Yannotti and Espinosa.

In these consolidated appeals, J.M.E. and R.J.N., Jr. (collectively, defendants) each appeal from an order that terminated their parental rights. We affirm.

I

These matters concern the three youngest of J.M.E.'s six children, C.M.N. ("Carly"), born November 6, 2001,*fn1 K.N.N. ("Kristy"), born January 3, 2003, and R.J.N., III ("Roy"), born June 21, 2006. R.J.N., Jr. is the father of Carly and Kristy. Roy's biological father is unknown.

The Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) filed a verified complaint for care and supervision of all six of J.M.E.'s children in November 2006.*fn2 On December 27, 2006, DYFS effected an emergency "Dodd" removal of the children pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.29, after the police reported an apparent suicide attempt by J.M.E. The court appointed a law guardian and placed the children in the custody, care and supervision of DYFS. The court made appropriate orders to evaluate and address the apparent needs of defendants, i.e., psychological evaluations, compliance with substance abuse treatment and parenting education, and conducted hearings on various dates from December 2006 through September 2007, on the order to show cause.

After living in a series of foster homes, Carly, Kristy and Roy were placed with R.J.N., Jr.'s cousin and his wife, S.V. and C.V. (collectively, the V.s), in February 2007. They continue to reside with them, and the V.s have expressed their desire to adopt the children.

On March 28, 2008, DYFS filed a complaint for guardianship of Carly, Kristy and Roy, seeking to terminate the parental rights of J.M.E., R.J.N., Jr., and the unknown father of Roy. The matter was tried on fifteen days between January 26, 2009, and July 24, 2009. During the course of the trial, DYFS and the Law Guardian presented the expert testimony of James Loving, Psy.D., and Ronald Gruen, Ed.D., respectively. Neither J.M.E. nor R.J.N., Jr. presented the testimony of an expert psychologist.

On October 30, 2009, the court issued a comprehensive written decision, finding that DYFS had proven its case by clear and convincing evidence. A judgment of guardianship was entered that same day terminating the parental rights of J.M.E. and R.J.N., Jr. to the three children.*fn3

II

N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a) authorizes DYFS to petition for the termination of parental rights in the "best interests of the child" if the following standards are met:

(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 permanent placement will add to the harm. Such harm may include evidence that separating the child from his resource family parents would cause serious and enduring emotional or psychological harm to the child;

(3) The division has made reasonable efforts to provide services to help the parent correct the circumstances which led to the child's placement outside the home and the court has considered alternatives to termination of parental rights; and

(4) Termination of parental rights will not do more harm than good.

A trial court's decision to terminate parental rights is subject to limited appellate review. N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. G.L., 191 N.J. 596, 605 (2007). If supported by "adequate, substantial, and credible evidence in the record[,]" the trial court's findings of fact are entitled to deference. Ibid.; see also Cesare v. Cesare, 154 N.J. 394, 413 (1998) ("Because of the family courts' special . . . expertise in family matters, appellate courts should accord deference to family court factfinding."). The family court's decision to terminate parental rights will not be disturbed "when there is substantial credible evidence in the record to support the court's findings." N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. E.P., 196 N.J. 88, 104 (2008).

The trial court carefully considered each of these prongs and cited adequate, substantial evidence in the record to support its conclusion that each had been proven by clear and convincing evidence. In a comprehensive written opinion, the trial court detailed the facts pertaining to the family history here and DYFS's involvement which need not be repeated here. We summarize the salient facts.

A

The first prong of the analysis requires a determination whether the child's health, safety or development has been endangered by the parental relationship. N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a)(1); In re Guardianship of K.H.O., 161 N.J. 337, 347-48 (1999).

DYFS received its first referral regarding these defendants in February 2006, when a call to its hotline reported that J.M.E.'s three older children had missed significant amounts of school. J.M.E. told the DYFS responders that her oldest son, "Warren," was missing school because he had cluster headaches and would be home schooled and also because she had cancer and was receiving treatment at Jefferson Hospital. DYFS did not substantiate abuse or neglect. However, it is now undisputed that J.M.E. did not have cancer; she was not receiving treatment at Jefferson Hospital; and Warren was not being home schooled.

The first substantiated allegation against defendants was made following Roy's birth in June 2006, when he tested positive for cocaine. He remained hospitalized for approximately two months ...


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