NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, Plaintiff-Respondent,
M.K., Defendant-Appellant. IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF A.K., Minor.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted May 21, 2013
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Middlesex County, Docket No. FG-12—53-12.
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Ruth Harrigan, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
Jeffrey S. Chiesa, Attorney General, attorney for respondent (Lewis A. Scheindlin, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Kourtney J.A. Knop, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, Law Guardian, attorney for minor A.K. (Katherine J. Bierwas, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
Before Judges Reisner and Hoffman.
Defendant M.K. (Mark or defendant) appeals from a May 17, 2012 order terminating his parental rights to his child A.K. (Anna). We affirm, substantially for the reasons stated by Judge Robert Figarotta in his oral opinion issued on May 17, 2012.
This was the most pertinent trial evidence. Anna was born on February 17, 2010. Due to her mother Sally's substance abuse, Anna was born with cocaine and Oxycontin in her system and was placed in Mark's custody shortly after her birth. Unfortunately, Mark tested positive for cocaine on April 7, 2010. As a result, on April 8, 2010, the Division of Youth and Family Services (Division) removed Anna from his custody and placed her with the maternal grandparents, where she has lived ever since. The grandparents have become her psychological parents and are prepared to adopt her.
Although they visited Anna on a regular basis, both parents resisted obtaining drug treatment until the fall of 2011. In November 2011, Mark began participating in a short-term drug treatment program at the New Hope Foundation. He completed that program, went to another related program called Phillip's House, and then continued his treatment at Integrity House, a long-term treatment facility, where he was still residing at the time the guardianship trial began on April 30, 2012. By that time, Anna had been living with her grandparents for two years. Sally continued to struggle with her drug addiction, and on the first day of the guardianship trial, she made an identified surrender of her parental rights in favor of her parents.
In its case against Mark, the State presented testimony from Dr. Karen Wells, who had evaluated him on October 29, 2011. She opined that he was not currently able to care for Anna, due to his history of multiple attempts at drug treatment, with multiple relapses, his bipolar disorder, for which he was not then taking medication, and his expressed discomfort with seeking support from others in a social network. Given Sally's "poor prognosis, " Dr. Wells also expressed concern about Mark's ability to maintain his sobriety if he resumed his relationship with Sally after he left Integrity House.
Based on her evaluation of the child's bond with Mark and with her grandparents, Dr. Wells opined that the child's "primary psychological attachment is to her grandparents." According to Dr. Wells, although Anna has a bond with Mark, her "primary father figure . . . is her grandfather." She testified that the grandparents could mitigate any harm that might result to the child if Mark's parental rights were terminated. She further opined that it was not in the child's best ...