NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, Plaintiff-Respondent,
L.Z. and B.S., Defendants-Appellants. IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF B.S., Minor
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted May 30, 2013
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Bergen County, Docket No. FG-02-88-11.
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant L.Z. (Dianne Glenn, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant B.S. (Sandra Bober, Designated Counsel, on the briefs).
Jeffrey S. Chiesa, Attorney General, attorney for respondent New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (Andrea M. Silkowitz, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Labinot A. Berlajolli, Special Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, Law Guardian, attorney for minor B.S. (Jennifer Holsey, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, on the brief).
Before Judges Koblitz and Accurso.
Mother L.Z. and father B.S. appeal from the June 25, 2012 judgment terminating their parental rights to their son, Billy, who was born in 2008. Billy has resided with his maternal aunt and uncle since he was eighteen months old, and they want to adopt him. The Law Guardian urges us to affirm. Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a)(1)-(4), B.S. argues that the Division failed to establish grounds for termination under any of the statute's four prongs. L.Z.'s arguments all fall within prong three. We affirm substantially for the reasons expressed in Judge John Conte's thorough fifty-five page written opinion of June 25, 2012.
The parents, who married on January 11, 2011, while this litigation was ongoing, are both Polish. L.Z. speaks English, but B.S. does not, which made it difficult for the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (Division) to provide services to him. Nonetheless, both parents were provided many opportunities to address their issues with alcohol and domestic violence that led the Division to intercede. L.Z. complied with many services, but was unable to remediate her alcohol problem. B.S. was not compliant and continued to abuse alcohol and engage in domestic violence.
On August 5, 2009, the Division received a referral from Hackensack University Medical Center after L.Z. was brought to the emergency room by ambulance due to injuries she sustained by falling down her apartment steps on August 2. Her blood alcohol level was .245 and Billy's whereabouts were unknown at the time of the incident. The Division caseworker was advised by hospital staff that L.Z. had several bruises on her legs that were in various stages of healing. L.Z. was diagnosed with numerous injuries, including lacerations and a collapsed lung (pneumothorax). While L.Z. initially stated that her husband has pushed her around, she later changed her story and explained that none of her injuries were a result of domestic violence.
On August 6, 2009, a Polish-speaking Division caseworker met with B.S. at the hospital. B.S. told the caseworker that he did not know why or how L.Z. fell, he was not home at the time, and neither of them had a drinking problem. L.Z. admitted to drinking at the time of the fall and to drinking "to make herself happy" at least twice per week. L.Z. also stated that she had lost her driver's license due to a driving under the influence conviction in Newark several years before. Additionally, L.Z. told the caseworker that B.S. drinks whiskey, vodka or beer regularly, and is drunk every weekend. Moreover, L.Z. insisted that she would not go for alcohol treatment as she did not feel she had a problem, but that B.S. did have a drinking problem.
L.Z. has been diagnosed with depression, bipolar disorder and personality disorder. She attended therapy and bi-monthly medication monitoring for Paxil, Klonopin and Bupropion. L.Z. was determined to need alcohol treatment while B.S. initially was not. L.Z. was only allowed to visit with Billy under B.S.' supervision.
On November 13, 2009, the Division received a second referral. The anonymous caller stated that there was an incident that night at the family's home where the police were called and B.S. was arrested.
A Division caseworker contacted the Garfield Police and was told about the domestic dispute and B.S.' arrest. The police report indicated that B.S. had been drinking and was ringing the downstairs bell after L.Z. kicked him out. In addition, the report stated that L.Z. showed visible signs of scratches, bruising, and redness around her neck. When the Division went to the house, caseworkers noted that L.Z. was watching Billy without supervision. L.Z. explained that her downstairs neighbor was supervising her, but L.Z. had to go upstairs to change Billy's diaper. L.Z. informed the caseworkers that B.S. was drunk the day before and tried to choke her. After a short struggle, he left the apartment and she refused to let him back in. Pursuant to a Dodd removal, Billy was placed in a Division approved foster home, as B.S. was in jail and no approved alternate supervisor could be found.
Almost a week after the incident, B.S. admitted to the Division that he choked L.Z. He acknowledged that they both "have a problem with alcohol, " and could "benefit from ...