NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, Plaintiff-Respondent,
T.M.L., Defendant-Appellant, and R.L., Defendant-Respondent. IN THE MATTER OF R.L.L., A Minor.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 22, 2013
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Ocean County, Docket No. FN-15—121-10.
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Howard Danzig, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for respondent R.L. (Mark E. Kleiman, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney for respondent (Lewis A. Scheindlin, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Stephanie Anatale, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, Law Guardian, attorney for minor R.L.L. (Nancy P. Fratz, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, on the brief).
Before Judges Reisner and Ostrer.
This matter arises from a Title 30 complaint filed by the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (Division),  seeking the provision of services to the family of defendant T.M.L. See N.J.S.A. 30:4C-11, -12. Defendant now appeals from a July 21, 2011 order and a November 15, 2012 order, concerning residential custody of her son R.L.L., as well as visitation. Both orders placed R.L.L. in the residential custody of his father, and set conditions on defendant's right to visit the child. The November 15, 2012 order was entered on remand from this court, following defendant's release after serving a year in prison. We conclude that the appeal of the July 21, 2011 order is moot. We affirm the November 15, 2012 order as modified by this opinion.
Although we conclude that the appeal of the earlier order is moot, it is helpful to understand the background from which that order arose. Defendant has a long and unfortunate history of drug addiction. In 2009, she was arrested for attempting to fill a forged prescription, while visiting a pharmacy with her young son. In November 2009, defendant and her husband R.L. were divorced. The divorce judgment incorporated their agreement to joint legal and shared residential custody of their son R.L.L., who was then five years old. In January 2010, the Division filed a Title 30 complaint for care and supervision of the child, contending that R.L.L. was then living with defendant and was at risk in defendant's care, due to her drug problems. On January 22, 2010, defendant and R.L. consented to the Division's involvement in their family for the purposes of implementing services, and the court ordered defendant to undergo a substance abuse evaluation.
On April 15, 2010, the Family Part held a plenary hearing on the issue of child custody, because defendant had not been compliant with drug treatment. There was no dispute at that time that she had a close relationship with the child. The issue was whether she was fit to have fifty-fifty residential custody of the boy, because of her ongoing drug problem. The father was amenable to that arrangement, so long as defendant lived with her parents. At the end of the hearing, all parties consented to an order continuing the child "under the care and supervision of the Division, " and providing for continued shared legal and physical custody, conditioned on defendant living with her parents and the parents supervising her at all times when she was with the child. The April 15, 2010 order also adjudicated the child "to be a ward of the court under N.J.S.A. 30:4C-12."
By June 2010, defendant had failed at least one drug test, and was not compliant with her treatment program, and the Division had received a report that the maternal grandparents were not consistently supervising defendant with the child. For that reason, the Division had removed the child from the grandparents' home on an emergency basis and placed him fulltime in the father's custody. At an August 5, 2010 hearing, the child's Law Guardian told the court that the child wanted to live with his father full-time, and that defendant had begun physically turning her back on the child at visits. Defendant's counsel insisted that the court should promptly hold a hearing on the original allegations that had resulted in the child living full-time with the father. The court approved, on a temporary ...