NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF CHILD PROTECTION AND PERMANENCY, Plaintiff–Respondent, v. C.R., Defendant–Appellant. IN RE: THE GUARDIANSHIP OF M.S.M.,
Defendant C.R. is the biological mother of M.S.M. (Michael),1 born in April 2007. She appeals from a June 27, 2013 Family Part judgment terminating her parental rights to Michael and granting guardianship to the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (Division).2 On appeal, defendant argues the State failed to prove each prong of N.J.S.A. 30:4C–15.1a by clear and convincing evidence. The Law Guardian supported termination before the trial court and, on appeal, joins the Division in urging us to affirm. Based upon our review of the record and applicable law, we are satisfied the Division proved by clear and convincing evidence the requisite statutory factors required to terminate defendant's parental rights. Accordingly, we affirm.
We will not recite in detail the history of the Division's involvement with defendant. Instead, we incorporate by reference the factual findings and legal conclusions contained in Judge Craig R. Harris's thorough oral decision. We add the following brief comments.
We are satisfied that commencing with the Division's involvement with defendant in October 2010, and up until the start of the trial two years and eight months later, defendant was unable or unwilling to overcome the deficiencies that rendered her unable to safely parent Michael. During that time, Michael experienced four separate out-of-home placements. The Division offered numerous services to defendant, and although she complied with some, defendant failed to complete those services that would have addressed her most serious and significant deficiencies.
Credible expert testimony revealed that defendant suffered from major depression and adjustment disorders, and lacked the psychological capacity to adequately meet Michael's needs for safety, nurturance, stability, and guidance. One expert opined that there was little to suggest that within the foreseeable future, defendant would “possess the personal and emotional stability to resume parental responsibility” for Michael. Bonding evaluations further revealed that Michael, who had only lived with defendant for the first six months of his life, was not significantly bonded with defendant. Rather, he was closely bonded with his foster parents.
Judge Harris carefully reviewed the evidence presented, thereafter concluding that the Division had met by clear and convincing evidence all of the legal requirements for a judgment of guardianship. His opinion tracks the statutory requirements of N.J.S.A. 30:4C–15.1a, accords with In re Guardianship of K.H.O., 161 N.J. 337 (1999), In re Guardianship of D.M.H., 161 N.J. 365 (1999), and New Jersey Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. A.W., 103 N.J. 591 (1986), and, contrary to defendant's contention on appeal, is supported by substantial and credible evidence in the record. See New Jersey Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. F.M., 211 N.J. 420, 448–49 (2012).
We turn briefly to address defendant's contention that the Division failed to prove prong three by not facilitating an investigation of the Greens, Michael's first resource family. Michael lived with the Greens from October 2010 until December 2011, when they moved to South Carolina. The record supports the Division's assertion that it had notified the appropriate interstate agency to request an assessment of the Greens' South Carolina home. While the trial court recognized the assessment had not yet been completed at the time of trial, its completion was not within the Division's control.
Defendant now argues that Michael should have been permitted to move with the Greens to South Carolina in 2011. That argument, however, fails because in December 2011, the Division's plan remained reunification with defendant. Certainly, those efforts would have been hindered if Michael moved out of state. The record further demonstrates that defendant did not support placement with the Greens until the case plan had changed to adoption in August 2012.
We are convinced defendant is unable to provide the stable and permanent home that Michael so desperately needs. Importantly, the Division must act in a child's best interests. N.J.S.A. 30:4C–15.1. The uncontroverted expert testimony made clear that Michael was strongly bonded to his current caretakers in New Jersey, and that he would suffer severe and enduring harm if he were to have been removed from their home.
We conclude there is sufficient evidence in the record to support the finding that termination of defendant's parental rights to this child is in his best interest, and will not do more harm than good. We therefore affirm substantially for the reasons expressed in Judge Harris's comprehensive and well-reasoned oral opinion.
1. FN1. We are using fictitious names to protect the privacy of all persons involved in this matter.
2. FN2. On June 29, 2012, the Governor signed into law A–3101, reorganizing the Department of Children and Families. The Division of Youth and Family Services was renamed and is now known as the Division of Child Protection and Permanency. L.2012, c. 16, eff. June 29, 2012 (amending N.J.S.A. 9:3A–10b).