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New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. K.S.C.

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

October 31, 2013

NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, [1] Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
K.S.C. and S.J., Defendants-Appellants. IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF C.J., Minor-Respondent.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted October 16, 2013

On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Middlesex County, Docket No. FG-12-67-10.

Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant K.S.C. (Jennifer M. Kurtz, Designated Counsel, on the brief).

Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant S.J. (Rhonda J. Panken, Designated Counsel, on the brief).

John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney for respondent New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (Andrea M. Silkowitz, 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-respondent C.J. (Olivia Belfatto Crisp, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, on the brief).

Before Judges Fisher, Espinosa and Koblitz.

PER CURIAM

In these consolidated appeals, we consider defendants' arguments that their parental rights to Cara (a fictitious name), who is now five years old and who has been in foster care since she was three days old, were erroneously terminated. Finding no merit in defendants' arguments, we affirm.

Parents have a constitutionally protected right to the care, custody and control of their children. Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745, 753, 102 S.Ct. 1388, 1394-95, 71 L.Ed.2d 599, 606 (1982); In re Guardianship of K.H.O., 161 N.J. 337, 346 (1999). "The rights to conceive and to raise one's children have been deemed 'essential, ' 'basic civil rights . . ., ' 'far more precious . . . than property rights.'" Stanley v. Illinois, 405 U.S. 645, 651, 92 S.Ct. 1208, 1212, 31 L.Ed.2d 551, 558 (1972) (internal citations omitted). "[T]he preservation and strengthening of family life is a matter of public concern as being in the interests of the general welfare." N.J.S.A. 30:4C-1(a); see also K.H.O., supra, 161 N.J. at 347.

The constitutional right to the parental relationship, however, is not absolute. N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. A.W., 103 N.J. 591, 599 (1986). At times, the parent's interest must yield to the State's obligation to protect children from harm. In re Guardianship of J.C., 129 N.J. 1, 10 (1992). To effectuate these concerns, the Legislature created a test for determining whether a parent's rights must be terminated in the child's best interests. N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a) requires that the Division prove by clear and convincing evidence the following four prongs:

(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 . . .;
(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.

See also A.W., supra, 103 N.J. at 604-11.

Following a three-day trial that ended on January 5, 2012, the trial judge rendered an oral opinion and entered judgment terminating ...


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