October 9, 2013
NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, Plaintiff-Respondent,
C.T., Defendant-Appellant. IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF T.T., a minor.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 2, 2013
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Passaic County, Docket No. FG-16-32-11.
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Jennifer M. Kurtz, Designated Counsel, on the briefs).
John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney for respondent (Andrea M. Silkowitz, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Toni Lynn Imperiale, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, Law Guardian, attorney for minor T.T. (Christopher A. Huling, Designated Counsel, of counsel and on the brief).
Before Judges Fuentes, Fasciale and Haas.
C.T. appeals from a May 31, 2012 order, entered on remand, terminating her parental rights to T.T., her twelve-year-old autistic adopted son. In our previous opinion, we exercised original jurisdiction and found that the Division established, by clear and convincing evidence, prongs one, two, and the "reasonable efforts" requirement of prong three contained in the best interests of the child standard enunciated in N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a). We then remanded and gave the judge specific instructions. We stated that
[the judge is to] determine whether adoption of T.T. is feasible and likely. If so, [kinship legal guardianship (KLG)] is not an available alternative, and the judge should complete the best interests analysis by determining whether termination of C.T.'s parental rights would do more harm than good. On the other hand, if adoption is neither feasible nor likely, the judge should consider KLG as an appropriate alternative to termination of parental rights.
[N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. C.T., supra, slip op. at 32-33 (citations omitted).]
On May 31, 2012, the judge issued a two-page oral opinion, concluding that the Division "identified a family which would be a feasible placement as this family has adopted before."
The judge did not make adequate findings of fact and conclusions of law regarding the feasibility of adoption. He made no findings concerning whether termination of parental rights will do more harm than good. We exercised original jurisdiction in our previous opinion because the record contained clear and convincing evidence that the Division met prongs one, two, and the first part of prong three. Because the record was not sufficiently developed on remand, we are unable to do so now.
A trial judge "shall, by an opinion or memorandum decision, either written or oral, find the facts and state [his or her] conclusions of law thereon in all actions tried without a jury . . . ." R. 1:7-4(a). "The rule requires specific findings of fact and conclusions of law . . . ." Pressler & Verniero, Current N.J. Court Rules, comment 1 on R. 1:7-4 (2014). The Supreme Court has expounded on this essential obligation:
Failure to perform that duty constitutes a disservice to the litigants, the attorneys and the appellate court. Naked conclusions do not satisfy the purpose of [Rule] 1:7-4. Rather, the trial court must state clearly its factual findings and correlate them with the relevant legal conclusions.
[Curtis v. Finneran, 83 N.J. 563, 569-70 (1980) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).]
We therefore remand and direct the judge to make the requisite findings of fact and conclusions of law. We do not retain jurisdiction.