NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES,  Plaintiff-Respondent,
T.M.F., Defendant-Respondent, and J.M.R., Defendant-Appellant. IN THE MATTER OF J.S.R., a minor.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted November 20, 2013
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Mercer County, Docket No. FN-11-131-08.
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Anthony J. Vecchio, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney for respondent New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (Lewis A. Scheindlin, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; John W. Tolleris, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for respondent T.M.F. (John A. Salois, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, Law Guardian, attorney for minor J.S.R. (Christopher A. Huling, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
Before Judges Fuentes, Simonelli and Fasciale.
Defendant-father appeals from orders entered on remand (1) finding that he abused and neglected his son born in 2006 (the "child"); and (2) awarding physical custody of the child to the paternal grandmother (M.R.), and joint legal custody of the child to M.R. and defendant-mother. The parties return to us disputing the sufficiency of the evidence adduced at the fact-finding hearing.
We affirm the order finding defendant abused or neglected the child, reverse the order granting the mother joint legal custody and remand for the trial court to conduct a dispositional hearing. Physical and legal custody of the child shall remain with the paternal grandmother, M.R. pending the outcome of the dispositional hearing.
At the fact-finding hearing, the Division produced testimony from two psychologists, Dr. Jamie Gordon-Karp and Dr. Elayne Weitz, and a caseworker, Tiana Smith. Dr. Maureen Santana (a psychologist) testified on behalf of the Law Guardian. The father called Dr. James R. Reynolds (a psychologist) as his witness. The judge also heard testimony from M.R., and Ivan Haye, the mother's paramour. We discern the following facts from the evidence presented at the fact-finding hearing.
The mother had been suffering from depression and asked defendant not to leave her alone with the children; however, he left her alone with them. Defendant suffers from emotional instability, alcohol, drug abuse, and anger management issues. He also knew that the mother was under substantial stress and was unwilling to remain alone with the baby and the child. Defendant, however, left the mother alone with the children. The mother dropped the baby causing a fatal injury. The police arrived at the home and the mother admitted to choking the baby in front of the child. The police arrested the mother and charged her with second-degree endangering the welfare of a child, N.J.S.A. 2C:24-4a.
The judge found by clear and convincing evidence that defendant abused and neglected the children by deliberately exposing them to "substantial risk of harm" when defendant left them unsupervised with the mother. The Division moved to appoint M.R. as the kinship legal guardian (KLG) for the child. The judge terminated the litigation, denied the ...