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02/11/19: New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency v. A.S.K. (A-50-17) (079700) (Per Curiam)—New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed the Appellate Division’s affirmance of the trial court. The trial court terminated the parental rights of the Defendant, who is the biological father of the child. The child alternated his residence between his mother and father during the first 4 years of his life. The Division became involved with the family due to allegations of medical neglect of the child under the mother’s care. When the child began living with Defendant, the medical neglect was remedied and the Division found Defendant was capable of caring for the child. Due to family conflicts, Defendant returned the child to the care of the mother. The Division removed the child from the mother soon thereafter. During the next three years while the child was in the Division’s custody, Defendant did not provide his current contact information to the Division and did not seek contact with the Division, despite the fact that he knew the child was in the Division’s custody. During the course of the three years, Division had changed its goal from reunification to adoption and filed a guardianship complaint. Although Defendant appeared for the first time in the guardianship litigation in January of 2016, he missed subsequent court-ordered evaluations several times.

The trial court conducted a four-pronged analysis of best interests of the child, as codified in NJSA 30:4C-15. The first prong, “The child’s safety, health, or development has been or will continue to be endangered by the parental relationship;” and the second prong, “The parent’s unwillingness or inability to eliminate that harm.” were met by the court’s finding that the Defendant voluntarily withdrew from the child’s life for substantial periods of time, while the child was in danger of medical neglect and while the child was under the care of the Division. The third prong, “Division 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,” was met by the Division’s attempts to contact the Defendant, Defendant’s failure to appear at appointments, and the Division’s consideration of alternative placements. Although Defendant was never served with the Title 9 complaint due to the Division’s mistake, the trial court ruled, as affirmed by the Appellate Division and the Supreme Court, that the Division’s search for his address was adequate, that Defendant had actual knowledge, and that no prejudice is attributed to the Defendant due to the delay in service. The fourth prong, “Termination of parental rights will not do more harm than good,” was met by the psychologist’s testimony regarding the emotional attachment between the child and resource parent. The Supreme Court further noted that the proceeding was “needlessly drawn out” due to the Division’s errors and delay in service and urged the Division to conduct a new search for a parent for each phase of the litigation and implement procedures that retain a party’s past contact information.

01/28/19: The New Jersey Supreme Court recently ordered the dismissal of more than 780,000 minor municipal court matters older than 15 years, including parking tickets and some minor traffic violations. The effort was designed in part to help address the problem of mounting court debt or fines and fees which have created access to justice issues for many, most particularly those of low-income statewide.

01/08/19: In the Matter of Expungement of the Arrest/Charge Records of T.B., (A-18/19/20-17) (079813) (decided January 8, 2019), the New Jersey Supreme Court held that successful drug court graduates presumptively meet the “public interest” when the court considers their expungement applications under N.J.S.A. 2C:35-14(m). Additionally, they are not required to provide copies of all relevant transcripts and reports otherwise required under In re Kollman for those convicted of third or fourth degree drug sale or distribution offenses. (Read more)

01/04/19: J.G. v. J.H. (Published App. Div decision by J. Koblitz). In this case, LSNWJ persuaded Judge Koblitz and the other Appellate Division panel members that ”Because the welfare of children is paramount whether the parents are married, divorced or never-married,” they must be provided (most of) the procedures required for custody and parenting time in a divorce litigation. Specifically, the court held:

“[Prior to [an FD] plenary hearing, the parties should have been sent to mediation, Rules 1:40-5 and 5:8-1, and, if they were unable to resolve the issues, they should have been required to submit a Custody and Parenting Time/Visitation Plan pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:2-4(e), Rule 5:8-5(a) and Luedtke v. Shobert (Luedtke), 342 N.J. Super. 202, 218 (App. Div. 2001). The required procedures for custody and parenting time cases are outlined in Administrative Directive #01-02, ‘Standards for Child Custody and Parenting Time Investigation Reports’ (Apr. 2, 2002), and include use of alternate dispute resolution, followed by an investigation report when ‘conflicting information from the parties make it difficult to make a determination in the best interest of the child regarding custody/shared parenting time.’ A Social Investigation Report should be ordered where ‘conflicting information regarding which parent can serve the long term best interest of the child is presented before the court but the psychological fitness of both parties is not in question.’ Ibid.”

Additionally, the court detailed how court appearance in this non-dissolution case failed to provide required hearing procedures, including an opportunity for each side to present evidence, cross-examine witnesses, and make legal arguments.