NEWARK, N.J. — Under international law, it appears straightforward that a 9-year-old boy who has lived most of his life in Brazil should be returned to his father in New Jersey.
But after another week of legal tussles, the future remains unclear for the father, who has been fighting for years to get back the son he lost, the son who has told psychologists he wants to stay in Brazil and the boy’s family in Rio de Janeiro, who have pleaded for him to stay put.
The father, David Goldman, flew to Brazil on Monday after a federal court there said his son would be handed over to him Wednesday at a U.S. consulate.
But late Tuesday, Brazil’s supreme court agreed to hear a challenge to the ruling, and Goldman was planning to return home to Tinton Falls, N.J., alone, thwarted again.
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The case, tangled up with diplomacy and Brazilian politics, shows the tension between the Hague Convention on international child abduction and the notion that courts should do what’s best for children in custody cases.
The dispute goes back to 2004 when Bruna Goldman took her son Sean, then 4, to her native Brazil. She told her husband she’d be back in two weeks. But she stayed in Brazil and eventually remarried there.
David Goldman said it was an abduction and that he should get custody of the child.
The case began getting international attention last year after Bruna Goldman died while giving birth to a daughter. The U.S. Congress, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama have all lobbied Brazil to return the boy.
Sean has been living with his stepfather, Rio de Janeiro lawyer Joao Paulo Lins e Silva.
Sergio Tostes, a lawyer for the Brazilian family, said the judge that ruled earlier in the week “did not consider that fact that the boy repeatedly told the psychologists that he wanted to remain in Brazil.”
Justice Marco Aurelio, who suspended Sean’s return, said in a statement that “I think five years were enough for roots to have been formed” by Sean in Brazil.
Mitch Spero, a psychologist in Florida, donated his time nine years ago to evaluate Elian Gonzalez, a Cuban-born boy who was living with relatives in Miami before President Bill Clinton ordered that he be returned to his father in Cuba.
Spero said that while laws and treaties should be followed, it’s also important to consider what’s best for the child. Without knowing the specifics of the Goldman case, he said a hasty return to the U.S. might not be the best thing.
“Since his mother passed away, losing contact with the stepfather would be another loss for the child,” Spero said. Separating Sean from his baby sister could also be a problem, Spero said.
Spero says that the best approach would be to have a transition of custody.
And that’s what the Brazilian court decision earlier in the week sought to do: have Sean spend part of his time with his maternal grandparents in New Jersey before living full-time with his father.
The court’s other 10 justices are expected to analyze Aurelio’s decision by June 10. If they agree with him, they will begin the long process of deciding who has custody.
U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, a Republican from New Jersey who has traveled with Goldman to Brazil, said the Hague Convention does not allow for an analysis of what’s in the child’s best interest. But he said that even if it did, the courts should find that his biological father should have custody.
Smith said that Goldman did get to visit with his son Wednesday.
Goldman told NBC’s “Today” show on Wednesday that he was again disappointed with the Brazilian courts. “He’s got to come home with me. He is in a very unhealthy environment and this has to stop.”
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