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David and Sean Goldman look back on infamous abduction ordeal 10 years later

This father spent five years fighting to have his son back in his life after his wife took him away. Now they want to make sure no one faces that same fate.
/ Source: TODAY

It's been a decade since David Goldman welcomed his son, Sean, back into his life following a headline-making parental abduction battle that spanned five years and two countries.

But even though their forced estrangement is long behind them, they're still fighting — for other families.

On Thursday, both men visited to TODAY and opened up about their harrowing ordeal, their reunion and about the important law that bears their name.

Talking about it all now is still difficult for 19-year-old Sean.

"It stirs it up," he said. "It brings some memories up, definitely. But it something we have to do in order to help other people."

Because neither of them want anyone else to go through what they did.

David Goldman with his late ex-wife, Bruna, and son, Sean, before a five-year legal fight to bring Sean back from Brazil.
David Goldman with his late ex-wife, Bruna, and son, Sean, before a five-year legal fight to bring Sean back from Brazil. TODAY

It all began in 2004, when Sean's mother, Bruna, took the then-4-year-old on what was supposed to be a two-week vacation to Brazil from their New Jersey home.

However, once they arrived in her native country, she stunned David by telling him over the phone that she was divorcing him and keeping Sean in Brazil.

"She just decided our love affair was over and she wanted to live in Brazil," David explained to Savannah Guthrie. "Those were her words to me. If I ever wanted to see Sean again, I needed to come down and sign papers that her attorney had drawn up. And if I didn't meet her demands, I would never see Sean again, and I'd spend all my money trying."

Bruna remarried in 2007 after being granted a divorce by a Brazilian court, but died a year later while giving birth. But that didn't end David's fight for his son. Sean's Brazilian family was granted temporary custody, and David made appearances on Dateline and TODAY to bring attention to the case, as well as reaching out to Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who helped fight for the father and son to be reunited.

Bruna's husband tried to retain custody of Sean in a case that led to a decision by the Brazilian Supreme Court that ultimately returned Sean to David's custody in 2009.

Image: Sean Goldman at a Knicks' game in Jan.
Sean at a Knicks game in New York City in 2009, a month after he returned from Brazil following a five-year court battle. Jason Szenes / EPA

The father and son resumed their life together when Sean was 9. Although it took Sean some time to start calling David “dad,” they have formed a close bond in the past 10 years.

"It was definitely a little hard at first," Sean said. "When anytime a parent is alone with a child, without the other parent there, they're going to be trying to skew the child's mind in order to alienate the parent, to make them (seem like) a bad person."

David now refers to it all as "a tough journey," but he stresses that he and Sean are the lucky ones.

"My outcome was one of the positive, one of the few success stories," he said. "That's why we're here. We look forward. The sadness of the past is going to be with us for a lifetime, but there's good things to accomplish."

And they've already had a role in accomplishing them thanks to advocacy work and the legislation they inspired.

David Goldman, Sean Goldman
David Goldman gives a thumbs up as he boards a plane leaving Brazil with Sean, then 9, after the Brazilian Supreme Court awarded David custody.Silvia Izquierdo / AP

"In the last decade there were almost 12,000 parental child abductions," David, who in 2011 wrote a book called "A Father's Love," noted. "So we've had this law, authored by Congressman Smith and signed by President Obama, and today's the anniversary — the fifth-year anniversary that he signed it."

He referred to the The Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction and Prevention Act law as being like the "sister or big brother" to the Hague Convention, which addresses the civil aspects of such cases. This law differs by allowing punitive measures to be taken against a country that harbors parental abductors, including withholding financial assistance to such countries.

Sean Goldman is now a high school graduate and looking ahead to college.
Sean Goldman is now a high school graduate and looking ahead to college.TODAY

As for Sean, he's now looking ahead to another big change in life — a good one. He's headed to college.

"I'm actually doing two years at community college, and I'm going to go off to a four-year after that," he said with a smile.

That means that after just 10 years back together, David faces an empty nest again. But he knows, this time, it's for the best.

"Our love as a parent is to hopefully have our children leave us at one time and on their own path," he said. "And to just be happy."