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Boy leaves Brazil with his father

The long custody battle over Sean Goldman had strained U.S.-Brazil relations.

December 25, 2009|By Marcelo Soares and Chris Kraul
  • Sean Goldman, 9, at the U.S. Consulate in Rio de Janeiro with his Brazilian stepfather, Joao Paulo Lins e Silva, left, and family lawyer Sergio Tostes.
Sean Goldman, 9, at the U.S. Consulate in Rio de Janeiro with his Brazilian… (Eduardo Naddar / Associated…)

Reporting from Bogota, Colombia, and Sao Paulo, Brazil -- A 9-year-old boy who spent more than half his life as the object of an international custody battle that strained U.S.-Brazil relations was returned to his American father Thursday.

Sean Goldman was reunited with his father, David, at the U.S. Consulate in Rio de Janeiro after Brazil's Supreme Court ordered the boy's stepfather to turn him over. Father and son then boarded a jet reportedly chartered by NBC News and headed home to New Jersey.

The reunion ended a long-running dispute that involved numerous U.S. politicians, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Goldman was accompanied in Rio by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) when the child was returned.

The set-to started in 2004 when Bruna Bianchi, Sean's mother and then-wife of Goldman, took Sean to Brazil for what was supposed to be a two-week visit. When she got there, she told Goldman that she was divorcing him and staying in Brazil with the boy.

Goldman began efforts to regain custody of his son under provisions of The Hague convention on international child abduction. Bianchi later married a Brazilian, but she died last year in childbirth. Her Brazilian in-laws fought to retain custody of the boy.

The battle became a cause celebre, with U.S. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) threatening to propose legislation that would have barred Brazil from receiving tariff benefits on hundreds of exports to the U.S.

On Thursday, Sean Goldman's stepfather, Joao Paulo Lins e Silva, led the boy, dressed in Brazilian green and yellow, to the U.S. Consulate through a horde of reporters and photographers. Lins e Silva is the scion of a powerful family of attorneys.

The surrender of the boy ends a week of legal turnabouts for Goldman. On Dec. 16, a lower federal court in Brazil ordered that Sean could be returned to his father within 48 hours, and Goldman headed to Rio to get him. Then a Supreme Court judge granted the stepfather's family an injunction staying the order.

On Tuesday, the injunction was overturned by the court after an appeal by Brazil's attorney general, who argued that the boy belonged with his father.

Goldman issued a statement read to reporters at the consulate after the return of his son. He thanked the public for its support and made a pitch for parental rights.

"It is now time for a new beginning, the rebirth of our family at such a special time of the year," Goldman wrote. "I hope the momentum keeps growing and the attention does not fade because there are more fathers and mothers and children to reunite."

Legal experts attributed the years-long delay in the case to features of Brazil's legal system allowing for successive appeals.

"Sean's return to the United States was always a certainty. Postponing the end of the case only made his re-adaptation to his original home more difficult," said an editorial published in the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper.

But the residue of bitterness was evident as the Goldmans flew home. Lins e Silva's attorney, Sergio Tostes, told reporters that he had words with U.S. Rep. Smith at the consulate, accusing him of using the case for political advantage. "He called me a kidnapper," Tostes said.

Tostes also criticized Goldman's acceptance of the chartered jet from NBC. "I just hope he won't carry his son home as a trophy."

Kraul and Soares are special correspondents.

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