On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, Docket No. FG-07-38-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted February 27, 2012 -
Before Judges Skillman and Hoffman.
Defendant, G.G., appeals from an April 7, 2011 judgment of guardianship terminating his parental rights to his daughter, B.S.G., who was born on August 14, 2008. Defendant has been incarcerated since June 2010. On August 30, 2010, B.S.G.'s mother, J.H., voluntarily made an identified surrender of her parental rights in favor of B.S.G.'s foster mother, F.M.*fn1 For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
Defendant and J.H. have three children together, five-year-old G.G., Jr. (Junior), four-year-old R.N.G., and three-year-old B.S.G., whose guardianship is the subject of this appeal. On June 4, 2009, both parents voluntarily agreed to an identified surrender of their parental rights as to Junior and R.N.G.
DYFS's involvement with defendant began in September 2005, nearly three years before B.S.G.'s birth. After discovering one-month-old D.G. living with defendant and J.H. in an unfurnished apartment with no food or refrigeration, DYFS removed the child.*fn2
In September 2006, DYFS arranged for defendant to begin counseling at Family Connections. On June 4, 2007, however, defendant threatened a staff member with gang violence. As a result of the incident, Family Connections prohibited defendant from returning to its premises.
In early January 2008, defendant threatened J.H. and Junior with a machete before kidnapping Junior for three days. As a result, defendant was arrested and later pled guilty to third-degree endangering the welfare of a child, N.J.S.A. 2C:24-4; third-degree making terroristic threats, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-3(a); and fourth-degree resisting arrest, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2(a).*fn3
Defendant was sentenced to three years' probation. A medical examination following the incident found Junior malnourished and underweight.
B.S.G. was born on August 14, 2008. Upon J.H.'s discharge from the hospital, she left B.S.G. in the care of a neighbor in an effort to prevent DYFS from removing the child.*fn4 DYFS workers and the police finally located B.S.G. on August 26, 2008. That same day, DYFS removed the child and placed her with F.M. B.S.G remains in that placement and F.M. wants to adopt her.
Following removal, DYFS provided defendant with various services, including supervised visitation, parenting classes, anger management classes, and psychological evaluations. Defendant's attendance at visitation was sporadic, and when he did attend he was often late. His participation in the other services was likewise inconsistent.
On April 19, 2009, defendant was arrested and later pled guilty to fourth-degree aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(b)(3); and third-degree making terroristic threats, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-3(b). Defendant has been incarcerated since June 2010, when he was arrested for violating probation. He is expected to be eligible for parole in the next six months.
At trial, DYFS presented testimony from Dr. Mark Singer, a psychologist who examined defendant, and Evalina Hinton, a DYFS caseworker. At the conclusion of the trial, the court issued an oral ruling terminating defendant's parental rights, and finding that DYFS had discharged its burden to present clear and convincing evidence satisfying the four-prong "best interests of the child" test. See N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a).
On appeal, defendant presents the following arguments:
I. THE ELEMENTS OF N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1 WERE NOT PROVEN BY CLEAR AND CONVINCING EVIDENCE.
A. G.G. HAS NEVER HARMED B.S.G. IN ANY WAY AND INCARCERATION DOES NOT CONSTITUTE PER SE HARM TO THE CHILD OR GIVE RISE TO A ...