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New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. M.R.

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

October 18, 2013

M.R. and P.C., Defendants-Appellants. IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF J.C., a minor.


Submitted September 10, 2013

On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Sussex County, Docket No. FG-19-22-11.

Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellants M.R. and P.C. (Albert M. Afonso, Designated Counsel on the brief for M.R.; Charles H. Landesman, Designated Counsel on the brief for P.C.).

John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney for respondent (Andrea M. Silkowitz, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Victoria A. Galinski, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).

Joseph E. Krakora, Law Guardian for minor J.C. (Melissa R. Vance, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, on the brief).

Before Judges Messano and Sabatino.


When the State seeks to terminate parental rights, the Division of Youth and Family Services (the Division)[1] must prove by clear and convincing evidence each of the following:

(1) The child's safety, health or development has been or will continue to be endangered by the parental relationship;
(2) The parent is unwilling or unable to eliminate the harm facing the child or is unable or unwilling to provide a safe and stable home for the child and the delay of permanent placement will add to the harm. Such harm may include evidence that separating the child from his resource family parents would cause serious and enduring emotional or psychological harm to the child;
(3) The [D]ivision has made reasonable efforts to provide services to help the parent correct the circumstances which led to the child's placement outside the home and the court has considered alternatives to termination of parental rights; and
(4)Termination of parental rights will not do more harm than good.

[N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a).]

See also In re Guardianship of K.H.O., 161 N.J. 337, 347-48 (1999). In these consolidated appeals, defendants, M.R. (Mary) and P.C. (Peter) appeal from the Family Part's order terminating their parental rights to their son, J.C. (James).[2] Peter argues that the Division failed to prove each of the four statutory prongs, while Mary contends that the proofs failed with respect to prongs two, three and four.

The Division and the Law Guardian counter by arguing the proof was clear and convincing regarding all four statutory prongs as to both defendants. We have considered the arguments raised in light of the record and applicable legal standards. We affirm.


On August 5, 2009, the Division received a report that Peter was abusing drugs and living with Mary, who was pregnant.[3]Mary's estimated due date was December 13. On December 1, DYFS opened a case after confirming with Mary's methadone clinic that she had tested positive for opiates, cocaine, benzodiazepine, and methadone in fall 2009.

A Division case worker met with Mary, who admitted that she missed her daily methadone dosage and took heroin on the purported advice of her counselor. Peter denied any knowledge of Mary's use of heroin and evidenced concern over the health of his unborn child. Peter claimed to be regularly attending AA/NA meetings and abstaining from alcohol and drugs, although he acknowledged use of prescription medications for pain.

On December 9, a nurse at Newton Memorial Hospital informed the Division that Mary had tested positive for cocaine and opiates. Mary stopped attending pre-natal appointments with her physician, claiming inappropriate conduct on the doctor's part. Peter failed to appear for his risk assessment, and he and Mary failed to attend another meeting scheduled by the Division. Peter told DYFS that various appointments were causing the couple "much stress." Mary and Peter assured their case worker that they would submit to a urine screen, but they never did.

Mary gave birth to James on January 3, 2010. Mary tested positive for opiates and cocaine, and the child was having trouble breathing and showed withdrawal symptoms. Mary admitted that she used three bags of heroin on January 2, the day before giving birth, but Peter claimed he knew nothing about Mary's drug use that day. James was diagnosed with Neonatal Abstinence Withdrawal Syndrome and transferred to another hospital for further treatment. The record reveals that his health has generally improved, although he has demonstrated deficiencies and delays in speech.

Peter was eventually evaluated at the Center for Evaluation and Counseling. He acknowledged a history of domestic violence in a prior relationship and admitted having been charged with numerous crimes. Peter stated that he was currently using Vicodin that had been prescribed for back pain, and he admitted taking Valium before driving to the evaluation. Peter denied the drug affected his ability to drive. However, he also told the evaluator that he had been previously involved in seven or eight motor vehicle ...

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