On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Hudson County, Docket No. FG-09-186-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted February 16, 2012 -
Before Judges Fuentes, Graves and Koblitz.
Defendant J.R. is the biological father of two girls, G.B. (Cathy), born in 2004, and C.B. (Debbie), born in 2006.*fn1
Defendant appeals from the order of the Family Part terminating his parental rights. The biological mother, S.B.,*fn2 voluntarily agreed to an identified surrender of her parental rights, designating the girls' seventy-two-year-old maternal great-grandmother R.M., as the putative adoptive parent. The order terminating defendant's parental rights clears the way for R.M. to legally adopt both children.
Defendant argues that the Division of Youth and Family Services (Division) failed to prove, by clear and convincing evidence, the four statutory factors necessary to terminate his parental rights under N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a). He also argues that he was denied his right to counsel during important phases of this litigation, and that his trial attorney's performance denied him his constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel. We reject these arguments and affirm.
We derive the following facts from the record developed before the trial court.
Cathy and Debbie were both born in the State of Tennessee. Defendant and S.B were legal residents of Georgia when their daughters were born; defendant still resides there. The Division executed an emergency removal of the two girls in 2009 after learning that S.B. was using heroin and neglecting her children. Defendant was not involved in the girls' lives at the time. The children were placed with their maternal great-grandmother, R.M., shortly after they were removed from their mother's custody.
During the course of the litigation, defendant failed to comply with court-ordered services and was generally uncooperative with the Division's efforts to ascertain his fitness to parent these children. Defendant was also arrested on an outstanding warrant while this case was pending and remained incarcerated for three months. He repeatedly failed to appear at court-scheduled hearings, and was not present at trial. Both the Division and his own counsel were unable to contact defendant for extended periods of time.
Defendant and S.B. never married. Defendant recently married another woman with whom he has an infant son; all three reside in Georgia. The record developed before the trial court established, by clear and convincing evidence, that, in addition to his substance abuse problem, defendant has a history of criminal involvement indicative of antisocial behavior; suffers from untreated psychiatric disorders; and has exhibited generally dysfunctional behavior.
At trial, the court considered the testimony of psychologist Melissa Rivera Marano, Psy.D., who evaluated defendant for the purpose of forming an opinion as to his ability to parent his daughters. Dr. Marano opined that reuniting defendant with this daughters was not in the children's best interest. Dr. Marano also conducted a bonding evaluation between defendant and his daughters. She found defendant behaved appropriately with the girls, was sufficiently encouraging, and "demonstrated positive parenting characteristics." Although defendant appeared sincere in his desire to assume responsibility for the care of his two young daughters, Dr. Marano noted that his "history of impulsive acts, poor ...