On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Ocean County, Docket No. FG-15-55-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 2, 2012
Before Judges Alvarez and St. John.
Defendant S.D. (Sara)*fn2 appeals from an order denying her motion to vacate her identified surrender, which terminated her parental rights to G.F., Jr. (Junior). We affirm.
On appeal, the record discloses the following facts and procedural history.
Sara and Junior's father, G.F., Sr. (Grant), became involved with the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) soon after the birth of Junior. DYFS attempted to work with them but they were continuously uncommunicative and unresponsive to DFYS efforts. Sara and Grant had substance abuse problems and histories with the criminal justice system.
Prior to Junior's first birthday, the court granted DYFS custody of Junior and he was placed with his paternal aunt, Sue.
A permanency hearing was held, and the court determined that termination of parental rights followed by adoption was an appropriate plan. On November 30, 2010, and December 14, 2010, case management conferences were held. At the November hearing, Sara's attorney indicated that Sara was incarcerated and serving a sentence of five years. Sara told the court, "I want what's best for [Junior]. . . . Where he's at right now, I couldn't think of a better person to take care of my son right now." She further stated, "[Sue] is an amazing person. She is all my son knows right now. My son is calling her mom. . . . She's been taking care of him for so long."
At the pretrial conference on April 4, 2011, the court was advised that Sara intended to surrender her parental rights. She requested pre-surrender counseling, a good-bye visit with Junior, and to be present at trial. On April 27, 2011, Sara had her pre-surrender conference via telephone with a counselor. The counselor had trouble meeting with Sara before this date because of Sara's incarceration at the Edna Mahan facility.
At the hearing on April 27, 2011, Sara indicated that she wanted to go through with her voluntary identified surrender. The judge asked Sara if she was sure and if she would like more time to speak with her attorney. Sara declined saying she was "okay." Sara was then questioned under oath by her attorney.
Sara made it clear that she was certain of her decision to surrender her parental rights, that she understood the consequences, and that she was making the decision voluntarily of her own free will. She denied that anyone forced, coerced, threatened, or pressured her into making the decision. She acknowledged her right to a trial and that DYFS had the burden of proving, by clear and convincing evidence, the termination of her parental rights. Sara said she did not need another pre-surrender counseling session but would like ...