The Office of Parental Representation – Appellate of the State of New Jersey’s Public Defender’s Office won a major (and rare) victory in this recent DYFS appeal.
DYFS v. C.M., ? N.J. ?, 2010 N.J. LEXIS 500 (June 1, 2010) – Termination of parental rights reversed. “In this case, a father was ordered to forfeit his parental rights to his natural son because he did not rush forward quickly enough, in the trial court’s and Appellate Division’s view, to take on fully and solely the care and custody of that child. The record demonstrates that the revelation that he had an out-of-wedlock child rocked his stable and successful marriage.
Faced with the nearly impossible choice between attempting to salvage that marriage — which had served as the center for successfully nurturing four other children, three to adulthood — or instantly asserting his right to take on the rearing of this new child, he hesitated. In reality, this father was faced with what can be described as a ‘Hobson’s choice,’ that is, no choice at all….
We conclude that defendant did not endanger his child’s safety, health or development; that defendant was willing and able to provide a safe and stable home for his child; that DYFS woefully failed to make reasonable efforts to provide services to help defendant correct the circumstances that led to his child’s placement outside the home; that the trial court never considered, in any substantive manner, alternatives to termination of parental rights; and that there is no basis in this record to conclude that termination of defendant’s parental rights to his child will not do more harm than good.
We therefore conclude that the trial court ‘went so wide of the mark that a mistake must have been made’ thereby allowing this Court to dispense with the deference traditionally afforded to a trial court’s decision to terminate parental rights…. We also conclude that, in this unique setting, severing this parent’s ties to his son constituted a gross and unwarranted abuse of the State’s extraordinary power over its citizens. For those reasons, we conclude that a judgment terminating defendant’s parental rights cannot be sustained on this record.”