On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Gloucester County, Docket No. FG-08-32-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Grall and Alvarez.
Defendant A.J.C. appeals the February 4, 2010 Family Part judgment terminating his parental rights to H.C., born September 21, 2007, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15(c) and -15.1.*fn1 For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
Care, custody, and supervision of H.C. was initially granted on October 11, 2007, to the Division of Youth and Family Services (the Division) after the child tested positive for opiates at birth, requiring placement in a specialized pediatric unit designed to treat infants experiencing drug withdrawal. H.C. was classified as medically fragile, in need of intensive medical care. In March 2008, H.C. was placed with his maternal grandmother and has lived with her since. She wishes to adopt.
Upon the Division's filing of a complaint for termination of parental rights, an order to show cause issued on February 9, 2009, explaining, among other things, that failure to appear in court might result in the entry of a default. A.J.C. failed to appear for a case management conference on September 15, 2009, and default was entered against him. Although the default was vacated at his attorney's request on December 10, 2009, despite A.J.C.'s failure to appear on that occasion, it was re-entered on April 5, 2010, when he again failed to appear. After conducting a proof hearing over two days, the court entered its judgment terminating parental rights.
We glean the following facts from the hearing record. Initially, A.J.C. had regularly visited with the child and expressed an interest in gaining custody. When evaluated in October 2007, shortly after the Division's involvement with the family began, it was recommended that he become involved in individual counseling, a parenting skills class, visit H.C. while supervised, and undergo a drug and alcohol evaluation. A.J.C. was found to require treatment due to issues with prescription drugs, but refused to comply, claiming treatment conflicted with his work schedule. A.J.C. briefly attended individual counseling as well as drug treatment, but tested positive for Oxycodone several times in late 2007 and early 2008. He did complete a parenting skills class. In the 2007 Title 9 proceeding, A.J.C. and the child's mother stipulated that her continued use of prescription medications while pregnant, and her failure to even inform her physician she was pregnant, constituted abuse and neglect.
During the summer of 2008, the Division encountered some difficulty contacting A.J.C. In August 2008, he tested positive for opioids and drug and alcohol treatment was recommended. Although A.J.C. enrolled in a drug treatment program in January 2009, he was later terminated for noncompliance. He also complained that his work schedule created difficulties with visiting H.C.
By the end of 2009, A.J.C.'s visits with the child became infrequent. He failed to attend meetings regarding the child's status vis-a-vis the guardianship proceeding.
As we have said, ultimately, A.J.C. failed to appear in court September 15, 2009, December 10, 2009, and at the final permanency hearing on April 5, 2010. He has not visited with the child since Christmas 2009.
At the proof hearing, the Division's case worker, Linda Zappile, testified that she had not spoken to A.J.C. during the prior year. Zappile also testified about the multiple evaluations, treatment options, and parenting education, which the Division offered to A.J.C.
The court rendered its decision from the bench on February 3, 2011, including extensive fact-finding regarding A.J.C.'s failure to submit to the majority of the scheduled urine screens, and his positive drug test results when he did submit, ...