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New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services,*Fn1 v. P.J

November 30, 2012


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Hudson County, Docket No. FG-09-173-11.

Per curiam.



Submitted October 11, 2012

Before Judges Sapp-Peterson, Nugent and Haas.

P.J., the biological mother of two daughters, J.J., born August 2, 1996, and A.A.J., born March 2, 2010, appeals from the Family Part order terminating her parental rights to A.A.J. and granting guardianship to the Division of Child Protection and Permanency ("Division"). We affirm.

The Division first became involved with P.J. in 1998 after receiving referrals primarily alleging environmental neglect of J.J. There were also later allegations that P.J. was not ensuring J.J.'s attendance at school.

Ten days after A.A.J.'s birth, the Division received a report from a woman later identified as E.G.'s*fn2 mother reporting that her seventeen-year-old son was having sexual intercourse with a forty-one-year-old woman he met on "MySpace" as well as with the woman's twelve-year-old daughter. The reporter identified P.J. as the forty-one-year-old woman. On March 12, the Division took J.J. and A.A.J. into protective custody by emergency removal. A.A.J. has been in her current foster home since May 2010 and has had no contact with P.J. in light of a "no contact" order in effect.

P.J. and E.G. were subsequently arrested. On October 26, 2010, P.J. pled guilty to conspiracy to commit sexual assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:5-1 and 14-2c(4), as part of a negotiated plea agreement. In exchange for her guilty plea, the State recommended that she receive a six-year custodial sentence. She was sentenced in accordance with the plea agreement on January 14, 2011 to a six-year aggregate custodial term.

On October 13, 2010, E.G., who had been identified as A.A.J.'s father, executed a voluntary surrender of his parental rights. The Division filed a verified complaint for guardianship on April 12, 2011. The court conducted the guardianship trial over two non-consecutive days in October 2011. The Division presented two witnesses: its case-worker, Samantha DeVita, and its expert, Dr. Robert Miller, a psychologist. In addition to her own testimony, defendant presented her aunt A.J. as a witness. A.J., at the time, was residing in Florida and therefore provided her testimony telephonically.

In a written decision issued on October 26, 2011, Judge Mark J. Nelson found that the Division established, by clear and convincing evidence, termination of P.J.'s parental rights was justified. The judge accepted Dr. Miller's conclusion that P.J. has a borderline personality disorder and stated that while P.J. did not actually harm A.A.J., she committed such an "egregious breach of parental trust and lack of judgment" with regard to J.J., that A.A.J. or "any child that [P.J.] would parent [faces] risk of harm."

In addition, the court noted that based on Dr. Miller's report and testimony, as well as P.J.'s testimony, P.J. clearly views herself as a passive victim and "accepts little to no responsibility for her own actions." He emphasized that P.J. was made aware of her psychological problems as early as 2001 and "[a]lthough psychiatric and psychotherapeutic treatment [were] recommended . . ., [P.J.] has not engaged in consistent treatment in order to address [them]." Judge Nelson found P.J. "demonstrated disruptive parental capacity to provide safety, care and emotional nurturance for her two children." Furthermore, he adopted Dr. Miller's opinion that P.J. displayed a "lack of emotional insight and unwillingness or inability to address the history of depression and personality disorder." Therefore, he concluded that the Division showed, by clear and convincing evidence, that P.J. "is either unwilling or unable to eliminate the harm facing" A.A.J.

The court was also satisfied that the Division met its burden of making reasonable efforts to provide P.J. with ameliorative services since 1998. The court emphasized that as an alternative to termination of parental rights, the Division considered over ten family members as possible placements for A.A.J. and J.J., and that for various reasons, these relatives were ruled out. The court, as a result, concluded that the Division had established the third prong by clear and convincing evidence.

Finally, citing Dr. Miller's evaluations, the court found "absolutely no evidence . . . that termination of parental rights will do more harm than good" and concluded that, as A.A.J. was currently in a pre-adoptive home, only by terminating P.J.'s rights could that home become her permanent home. The court entered a judgment of ...

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