NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF CHILD PROTECTION AND PERMANENCY, Plaintiff-Respondent,
E.S.M., Defendant-Appellant. IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF M.X.M., a minor.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued November 18, 2013
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Camden County, Docket No. FG-04-175-12.
Gregory K. Byrd, Designated Counsel, argued the cause for appellant (Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney; Mr. Byrd, on the brief).
Michelle D. Perry-Thompson, Deputy Attorney General, argued the cause for respondent (John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney; Lisa A. Puglisi, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Ms. Perry-Thompson, on the brief).
Caitlin McLaughlin, Designated Counsel, argued the cause for minor child (Joseph E. Krakora, Law Guardian, attorney; Ms. McLaughlin, on the brief).
Before Judges Yannotti, Ashrafi and St. John.
Defendant-mother E.S.M. appeals from the judgment of the Chancery Division, Family Part, terminating her parental rights to a son, now eleven years old. We affirm.
The child's biological father has not been identified. The child has substantial emotional problems and special needs and has never been in defendant's custody. The Division of Child Protection and Permanency (the Division) is seeking to find a home and an appropriate parent to adopt the child.
Defendant has three other children, none of whom are in her custody. She opposes termination of her parental rights on the ground that the Division did not prove the required statutory elements of N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a). The law guardian appointed to represent the interests of the child joins the Division in opposing the appeal. We find no merit in defendant's arguments and affirm the judgment for the reasons stated in the oral decision of Judge Linda Baxter, issued in open court on December 18, 2012, following the guardianship trial.
Judge Baxter carefully considered the evidence as it applies to the four prongs of N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a) and concluded by the clear and convincing standard of proof that it is in the best interest of the child to terminate defendant's parental rights so that the child can become available for adoption and permanency in his life. Substantial credible evidence supports the judge's findings of fact and conclusions of law. We add the following discussion to set forth the legal standards that apply and to summarize the evidence that supports the trial court's decision.
A reviewing court must defer to the Family Part's findings of fact and conclusions of law based on those findings. N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. G.L., 191 N.J. 596, 605 (2007); N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. A.R., 405 N.J.Super. 418, 433 (App. Div. 2009). We also defer to the trial court's assessment of expert evaluations. In re Guardianship of D.M.H., 161 N.J. 365, 382 (1999). Deference is accorded because the trial court had the opportunity to "make first-hand credibility judgments" and to gain a "feel of the case" over time, thus supporting a level of factual familiarity that cannot be duplicated by an appellate court reviewing a written record. N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. E.P., 196 N.J. 88, 104 (2008). "Only when the trial court's conclusions are so 'clearly mistaken' or 'wide of the mark' should an appellate court intervene and make its own findings to ensure that there is not a denial of justice." Ibid. (quoting G.L., supra, 191 N.J. at 605). Here, the Family Part's conclusions were not wide of the mark but well-supported by the evidentiary record.
To summarize the facts, we begin by noting that defendant had a troubled childhood. As a teenager, she was the victim of sexual abuse, allegedly by her mother's boyfriend. In 2000, when she was fourteen years old, the Division received a ...