NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES,  Plaintiff-Respondent,
M.D., Defendant-Appellant, and H.A., Defendant-Respondent. IN THE MATTER OF M.A. and J.A., Minors.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted September 23, 2013
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Middlesex County, Docket No. FN-12-155-11.
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Beth Anne Hahn, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney for respondent New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (Melissa H. Raksa, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Michael A. Thompson, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for respondent H.A. (Sarah L. Monaghan, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, Law Guardian, attorney for minors M.A. and J.A. (David R. Giles, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
Before Judges Yannotti and Leone.
Defendant M.D., the mother of M.A. and J.A., appeals from an order terminating the litigation because the children had been returned to the custody of their father, defendant H.A. M.D. claims she was denied due process at each stage of the litigation. To the contrary, M.D. refused to participate in much of the litigation, but was accorded due process throughout. Further, the judge's disposition was appropriate under New Jersey Department of Children & Families v. I.S., 214 N.J. 8 (2013), petition for certiorari filed September 9, 2013. Accordingly, we affirm.
M.D. and H.A. were married, lived together, and shared joint legal and physical custody over their children. On October 29, 2010, the Division filed a verified complaint against M.D. and H.A. pursuant to "N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21 et seq. [Title Nine] and N.J.S.A. 30:4C-12 et seq. [Title Thirty]." The complaint sought care and supervision of their son J.A., born in 1999, and their daughter M.A., born in 2005. The Division had no concern with H.A.'s ability to care for the children, but it was concerned that M.D.'s deteriorating mental state placed the children at risk.
Specifically, the complaint alleged: M.D. had been diagnosed as a schizophrenic, was not taking her medication, and had a history of acting irrationally when she did not take her medication. In July 2010, M.D. was hospitalized for four days at Raritan Bay Mental Health Center (Raritan Bay). She was talking incoherently, hearing voices, and claiming to be God. In early October 2010, M.D. did not take her medication for days, flushed all of her medications down the toilet, acted strangely, and was again admitted to Raritan Bay for nine days. On October 24, M.D. took 120 pills at once because the voices told her to, and was again hospitalized.
On October 29, 2010, the Family Part judge granted an order to show cause because M.D. was hospitalized for an ongoing mental health disorder and had not been taking her medication as prescribed. The judge granted the Division care and supervision over the children, who remained with H.A., and ordered M.D.'s future contact with the children to be supervised.
M.D. was involuntarily committed to Trenton State Psychiatric Hospital for longer-term hospitalization. At the return hearing on the order to show cause, held on November 16, 2010, M.D. was represented by counsel. The judge reiterated her prior order, and recognized H.A.'s physical custody of the children.
A psychiatric evaluation confirmed M.D.'s diagnosis of schizophrenia, and further suggested she might be bipolar, manic depressive, and psychotic. On January 6, 2011, M.D. was released from the Trenton State Psychiatric Hospital, returned home, and began outpatient treatment at Raritan Bay, which treated her for medication non-compliance.
At the February 8, 2011 hearing, M.D. appeared with counsel. The Division stated it had had concerns about M.D.'s ability to supervise the children, but the allegations of neglect were unfounded "because [in] her 14-year history of battling schizophrenia, she was never substantiated for neglect." Without objection, the Division withdrew its allegations under Title Nine, and the case preceded solely under Title Thirty. The judge ordered M.D. to continue at Raritan Bay, take her prescribed medications, and participate in the Integrated Case Management Services (ICMS) program to monitor her medications. M.D., through counsel, said she would comply.
At the next hearing on March 22, 2011, the judge ordered M.D. to participate in a part-day program at Raritan Bay, continue with ICMS, and take her prescribed medications. The judge reiterated those orders at hearings on June 15, August 16, and October 11, 2011. M.D., through counsel, stated on March 22, June 15, and October 11 that M.D. had no objections to and was fine with those requirements, and with the Division's care and supervision of the children. Indeed, during this period, M.D. was largely compliant and made progress. On June 15, 2010, at the request of M.D.'s counsel, the judge agreed to allow M.D. unsupervised visitation of and restored M.D.'s joint custody with H.A. over the children. The judge warned M.D. that joint custody was "contingent upon compliance with your treatment." On October 11, at the behest of M.D.'s counsel, the judge listed the case for dismissal at the next hearing on December 13, 2011, because M.D. had been compliant and the family had been stable for several months.
Unfortunately, M.D. never attended another hearing. At the December 13, 2011 hearing, Raritan Bay reported that M.D. had not appeared there since October 13, 2011, that attempts to contact her had failed, and that she was being dropped from the part-day program. The Division's counsel stated that she stopped taking medications on October 13. The judge ordered M.D. to continue in Raritan Bay's part-time program and medication monitoring, and be compliant with taking her medications.
At the February 21, 2012 hearing, M.D.'s counsel said he sent M.D. a letter confirming the hearing date and requesting a response, but she had not contacted him. The judge admitted a Division report relating: in January 2012, M.D. was not taking her diabetic medication, had not refilled her psychotic medicine, and was refusing to go to Raritan Bay; she was behaving irrationally, tried to attack H.A., and refused to sign a safety protection plan; she refused to cooperate with the Division, and screamed threats at the caseworker, who had police help H.A. and the children escape from M.D. The Division's counsel reported that, as of the time of the hearing, M.D. was taking her medications, but had not re-engaged with Raritan Bay. The judge ordered her to do both.
On March 9, 2012, the Division performed an emergency removal of M.D. from the home. On March 13, the Division filed an amended verified complaint and an order to show cause asking for M.D.'s continued removal from the home because she was no longer attending her mental health treatment, and was physically preventing H.A. from administering necessary diabetic and anti-seizure medication to J.A. The caseworker testified that, as a result, J.A. was having repeated seizures and his life could be endangered. M.D.'s counsel cross-examined the caseworker, and elicited that the requested sole custody for H.A. would be ...