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New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. C.V

December 14, 2012


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Middlesex County, Docket No. FG-12-82-11.

Per curiam.



Submitted November 14, 2012 -

Before Judges Lihotz and Ostrer.

We review challenges to a November 9, 2011 Family Part judgment terminating the parental rights of defendant C.V., the father of C.J.V., and granting guardianship of the child to the Division of Youth and Family Services, now known as the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (the Division),*fn1 for the purpose of securing his adoption. On appeal, C.V. argues the trial court's findings that the Division satisfied each prong of the best interests test, N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1a, were unsupported by clear and convincing evidence. He further maintains his due process rights were violated when the trial court declined his request for adjournment to assure his attendance at trial. We disagree and affirm.

We focus on the facts aiding review of C.V.'s arguments.*fn2

On April 16, 2009, the Division responded to C.V.'s report that J.D., C.J.V.'s mother, was unable to care for the three-year-old because she was abusing drugs and alcohol and was not taking her bipolar disorder medications. The Division's investigation concluded the allegations were unfounded. C.V. again notified the Division on October 22, 2009, reporting that while C.J.V. was in her care, J.D. abused drugs and alcohol, allowed strangers in her home who also abused substances, and would not allow him to see the child despite an order granting him visitation. Following its investigation, the Division concluded the allegations of neglect were substantiated. The Division also learned both C.V. and J.D. engaged in a pattern of substance abuse and domestic violence, which at times occurred in the presence of C.J.V.

C.V. and J.D. attended a meeting with Division representatives to review the family's circumstances, during which C.V. appeared intoxicated, demonstrated aggressive behavior, and was asked to leave. During the meeting, J.D. admitted she and C.V. suffered from substance abuse and engaged in a volatile relationship replete with mutual acts of domestic violence. J.D. also acknowledged her relationship with C.V. had a negative impact on C.J.V., who had developed "anger issues which [we]re evident when [J.D.] t[old C.J.V.] that he can't do something."

The next day C.V. called the Division, admitting he was still intoxicated after using cocaine and drinking alcohol throughout the night. He admitted he consumed alcohol daily and used cocaine occasionally.

The Division arranged for both parents to participate in inpatient substance abuse treatment. C.J.V. was placed with his maternal grandmother, D.D., where he remains.

On December 21, 2009, the Division filed a complaint for custody, care, and supervision of C.J.V. The Family Part judge granted the Division's request for legal custody, care, and supervision, but placed the child in the physical custody of D.D., subject to C.V.'s supervised visitation.

In December 2009, C.V. was admitted to a six-month inpatient substance abuse treatment program at the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center. He remained drug and alcohol free while participating in the residential program, but left prior to its completion. After approximately one month, he discharged himself "[t]o care for his girlfriend and son."

Over the next eighteen months, the Division extended various services to C.V. to resolve his substance abuse, anger issues, and parenting deficits, originally with the goal of reunifying him with C.J.V. Such services included a referral for a psychiatric evaluation with Dr. Delfin G. Ibanez and a psychological evaluation with Dr. Margaret DeLong; a substance abuse evaluation with Catholic Charities Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor Vanessa Bell; substance abuse treatment with the New Brunswick Counseling Center; parenting skills training and domestic violence education provided by the Catholic Charities Family Violence Offender program; individual therapy with Dr. Sean Magnan; parenting skills classes with At Home Marital and Family Counseling; urine screenings; supervised visitation; and psychological and bonding evaluations by Donna LoBiondo, Ph.D.

Many services were directed to resolving C.V.'s longstanding substance abuse. He explained that beginning at age thirteen, he regularly consumed alcohol, and later began using marijuana, cocaine, and opiate-based narcotics. He acknowledged alcohol and drugs contributed to the domestic discord with J.D., which often escalated to physical violence. C.V. initially cooperated with the services provided and appeared committed to achieving sobriety for the benefit of his son. C.V. continued visitation with C.J.V., supervised by the Division.

C.V. successfully completed the New Brunswick Counseling Center program, attended thirteen of the twenty sessions with Catholic Charities, and participated in parenting classes. It is noted C.V. tested positive for alcohol on May 28 and July 7, 2010.

Also, C.V. attended individual counseling sessions with Dr. Magnan. Initially, C.V. showed progress during these counseling sessions as he openly discussed the instabilities in his life, including relapsing with substance abuse, his ever-volatile relationship with J.D., his failure to regularly attend meetings, continued unemployment, and lack of stable housing. However, his progress slowed after the first few months, and he "began to exhibit a pattern that would be displayed throughout the remaining course of the treatment, which was regressing whenever his expectations were not met in court." Dr. Magnan observed:

After [C.V.] would not get what he had hoped to at court hearings regarding visitation, he would then not attend treatment sessions or contact any of the services he was required to [attend]. He would then admit to what he had done and then offered assurance that he no longer would miss any sessions.

In his May 20, 2011 report, Dr. Magnan opined C.V. would not and could not "gain any additional benefit" from counseling. According to Dr. Magnan, C.V. would be unable to provide for his son at anytime in the near future because of his unresolved substance abuse issues, his limited "ability . . . to take accountability for his actions[,]" a "lack of impulse control[,]" and his inability "to anticipate the consequences of [his] statements." Therapy was terminated in May 2011.

On January 27, 2011, while C.V. was still attending therapy with Dr. Magnan, the Division filed a complaint for guardianship and the termination of parental rights. J.D. executed an identified surrender of her parental rights in favor of her mother, D.D., on March 28, 2011.

During a May 4, 2011 meeting with the Division to review C.J.V.'s placement, C.V. participated by telephone and informed the Division he left his mother's residence in New Jersey because of "family problems" and moved to Brooklyn, New York, to reside with a female friend. When a Division supervisor advised a background check of anyone living with him and an inspection of the home was necessary if C.V. intended to pursue reunification and present the new location "as a possible place for [C.J.V.]," he shunned the request, stating he would simply return to his mother's home. C.V. later changed his mind, but the Division was unable to investigate the New York residence, as C.V.'s roommate declined to sign a release to allow the Division to proceed.

C.V. also refused to comply with a court-ordered hair follicle test scheduled for May 26, 2011. He appeared at the Division's office and stated "he felt discriminated against and . . . had no reason to undergo a hair follicle test because he tested negative with . . . New Brunswick's Counseling Center." When the caseworker insisted C.V. comply with the court order, he became "very angry," threatened the caseworker, and "stormed out of the office." Eventually, C.V. agreed to submit to the test, but appeared on June 23, 2011, with a shaved head, forcing the technician to use a hair sample from C.V.'s ...

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