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TODAY contributor
updated 9/24/2008 6:38:18 PM ET 2008-09-24T22:38:18

It is like a nightmare for David Goldman, except that when he wakes up, it is still there. His son Sean, abducted to Brazil by the boy’s mother four years ago, remains almost in sight but always out of reach, in defiance of the laws of two nations and the world.

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“I haven’t seen him in four years, and I’ve been desperately fighting and fighting to be with him,” Goldman told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira Wednesday in New York.

Fighting his emotions, Goldman seemed always on the verge of breaking down as he told his story of loss and frustration. It began more than four years ago, on June 16, 2004, when the New Jersey man drove his wife, Bruna; their 4-year-old son, Sean, and Bruna’s parents to Newark Airport so they could go on a two-week vacation to Bruna’s native Brazil.

A shocking call
Goldman thought his marriage was solid and his wife happy. But when she got to Brazil, his wife called him and said she was not returning to the United States. And, she said, she was keeping Sean with her. What’s more, Goldman says, Bruna told him that if he ever wanted to see Sean again, he would have to assign sole custody of the boy to her.

Goldman went to court in New Jersey, where Sean was born, and obtained a court order calling for a custody hearing in that state and granting custody of Sean to Goldman pending the hearing. According to the laws of Brazil and the United States, as well as international law as spelled out in the Hague Treaties, to which Brazil is a signatory, Sean should have been returned home for the hearing. But Brazilian courts waited a year to respond to the New Jersey court, and then ruled that since so much time had passed, the child should stay with his mother.

Bruna obtained a divorce from Goldman in Brazil and married a Brazilian lawyer, who Goldman says comes from a prominent and politically well-connected family in that country. Pregnant by her new husband, Bruna died in childbirth last month.

In America, Goldman’s marriage was still valid, he says. He learned from friends in Brazil about Bruna’s death about a week after the fact. After four years of trying to get his son back, he thought this was finally the opportunity he needed.

“As tragic as it is, I needed to be with my son,” Goldman told Vieira, referring to his wife’s death. He thought, “Here’s my chance to go down and bring him home and be with my son.”

Paper tiger?
Goldman had been traveling to Brazil for every court hearing that ruled against him over the years. He went again, only to discover that his late wife’s Brazilian husband had filed a petition with local family courts to remove Goldman’s name from Sean’s birth records and replace it with his own.

“[That] would exclude me from ever even being my son’s father,” Goldman told Vieira. “So far, the Brazilian judicial system is letting him do this.”

The U.S. Embassy in Brazil has written letters asking Brazilian authorities to recognize Goldman’s paternal rights and the international and national laws that seem to favor his case.

David Goldman in the TODAY studio.

“What I’ve been told is, we’re considered a paper tiger,” Goldman said. “We’ll write letters. We’ll have meetings. But there’s no accountability on Brazil for kidnapping my child. In essence, this man who is no blood relation to my son could be any man taking any child to Brazil and filing custody, and with the delayed process of those courts, they’ll say, ‘Yes, this child belongs with that person.’ ”

In Goldman’s New Jersey home, Sean’s room remains as it was when he left four years ago, his favorite Scooby-Doo stuffed animal still on his bed, his clothes still in his closet. The boy is 8 now, and, although Goldman has been able to speak with him a few times on the phone, he has not been able to see him. Goldman has a Web site, bringseanhome.org, dedicated to regaining custody of his son.

Ignoring laws
Vieira asked how it’s possible that the Brazilian courts have apparently ignored their own laws.

In happier times: David Goldman with his son, Sean, and his late wife.

“I know this man comes from an influential family. I don’t know,” Goldman replied. “It’s just wrong on every level of the law in both countries, in international law … He should have been home within six weeks, and yet there was this sympathy — the mother and the child.”

Goldman said he never intended to deny Bruna the right to see their child. “It was never about separating the mother from the child. He was born here, we were married here and our habitual residence was here, so a court here should decide jurisdiction. You should not be able to flee and make up a story.”

Now, the question is how a person who is not related by blood to Sean can erase Goldman’s name from his son’s birth records.

“How can it be possible, a non-blood person could take my child?” Goldman asked rhetorically, fighting his emotions. “I don’t know. I don’t know.”

For more information on David Goldman’s custody battle, visit bringseanhome.org.

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