On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Cape May County, Docket No. FN-05-62-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Graves and Yannotti.
This is an appeal from the termination of a child protection services proceeding in which the Division of Youth and Family Services (Division or DYFS) alleged that defendant J.M. abused or neglected his son R.M. (fictitiously Richard). During the course of the proceeding, the court approved the Division's decision to place Richard with his mother, C.H. In addition, J.M. stipulated that he used excessive corporal punishment to discipline Richard. J.M. argues on appeal that the court erred in terminating the litigation and continuing legal and physical custody with C.H. "in the absence of a dispositional hearing." For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
On November 12, 2009, when Richard was seven years old, the Division received a referral indicating that Richard had been beaten by his father. The caller reported that Richard was forced to kneel on uncooked rice for an hour and that J.M. hit him on his buttocks with an open hand. Due to his injuries, Richard had trouble sitting in school, and the school nurse observed bruising on his buttocks and redness on both knees.
Richard was interviewed at the Cape May Prosecutor's Office that same day. During the interview, Richard was asked what would happen when he got in trouble, and Richard stated "you don't want to know." Richard said that he was hit "a lot," and that his father would take him to the basement so no one would hear him cry. While Richard was at the prosecutor's office, his bruises were photographed. His father was also interviewed at that time. J.M. admitted spanking Richard and said he "did not mean to hit him that hard."
After the interviews were completed, the Division initiated an emergency removal under the Dodd Act.*fn1 Richard was then taken to the Cape Regional Medical Center for a medical examination. Following the examination, the caseworker transported Richard to his mother's home.
The Division filed a verified complaint and order to show cause for the care and supervision of Richard on November 16, 2009. The first in-court proceeding took place the same day. J.M. and his attorney were both present at the hearing. J.M.'s attorney advised the court that R.M. would "comply with any and all recommendations," including the psychological evaluation requested by the Division. The trial court noted that the photographs of Richard's injuries were "quite disturbing," and Richard was placed in the care and custody of the Division. The court also approved the Division's decision to place Richard with his mother. Accordingly, the court transferred legal and physical custody of Richard to C.H.
On December 9, 2009, the return date of the order to show cause, J.M.'s attorney informed the court that J.M. "misses [Richard] very much. He loves him with all his heart and soul, [and] will do anything it takes to get back with his son." In addition, the Law Guardian advised the court as follows:
I had the opportunity to go out and see [Richard] yesterday in his mother's home. He's a delightful little boy, seven years old. He's in second grade. He's doing fine living with his mother. He says he's okay living with his mom. He's got a little three-year-old sister [who] also lives in the home, and his mom's, I guess, boyfriend or husband is also in the home.
He did confirm the allegations in the complaint. His father did spank him, he said quite hard on the buttocks, then slammed him onto a very hard chair. He said it hurt the back of his legs and it hurt his butt really bad when he was slammed down onto the chair. And then he was also made to kneel on a board that was covered in rice for . . . a very long time.
The Law Guardian also stated that Richard enjoyed "visiting with his father [and] he's only afraid of him some of the time. He's not afraid of his mother." The Law Guardian reported that Richard would "like to eventually go back and ...