fter a bitter, five-year, international custody battle that pitted a Tinton Falls man against an influential Brazilian lawyer — a fight that reached the highest levels of the U.S. and Brazilian governments, straining relations between the two — father and son were reunited Christmas Eve in a chaotic, emotional scene.
Nine-year-old Sean Goldman’s stepfather and a family lawyer pushed him through a jostling crowd of reporters and photographers to get to his father, David Goldman, who was waiting for him inside the U.S. Consulate in Rio De Janeiro. Sean was wearing a yellow shirt emblazoned with the Brazilian flag and Olympic rings, carrying his luggage and crying.
It was about 8:35 a.m. Thursday in Brazil, some 25 minutes before a court-ordered deadline.
In a written statement later, Goldman thanked everyone who helped him get his son back.
“It is now time for our new beginning, the rebirth of our family at such a special time of the year,” he wrote. “I hope the momentum keeps growing and the attention does not fade because there are more fathers and mothers and children to reunite.”
Sean’s maternal grandmother, Silvana Bianchi, said tearfully that “this is a very difficult moment.”
U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., criticized the Brazilian family for how it brought Sean to this father at the consulate, saying it had been offered at least two other, less public and traumatic ways, one involving an underground garage and one involving the front door.
The congressman said he was standing with David on the second floor of the consulate, watching Sean’s “nightmarish” walk into the building, and he saw the father “tearing up.”
“They’re hurting my son. Why are they doing this to my son?” Smith remembered David Goldman saying.
About three hours after they were reunited, father and son boarded a private plane chartered by NBC and flew out of Brazil, said Smith, who has helped David fight for his son.
But the Goldmans did not head to Tinton Falls and to the mob of reporters and photographers that would greet them there, Smith said. Instead, he said, the Goldman family will spend the holidays in a “cocoon” in an undisclosed location.
“They want to get some alone time together and some privacy,” Smith said Thursday morning during a teleconference from Brazil.
Sean had lived in Brazil since his mother, Bruna Bianchi, brought him to her native country for what was supposed to be a two-week vacation in 2004. She stayed, divorced Goldman and remarried, and Goldman began legal efforts to get Sean back.
After Bianchi died last year in childbirth, her husband, Joao Paulo Lins e Silva, a prominent divorce attorney, continued the legal fight and won temporary custody.
The tug-of-war pitted Goldman against a powerful family of Rio de Janeiro lawyers willing to use all legal means available, in a nation where the wealthy are used to coming out on top. Despite numerous court findings in favor of Goldman, Lins e Silva continuously found a way to delay giving up custody.
But after five years of rulings and appeals, the Supreme Court chief justice ruled Tuesday that Sean be returned to Goldman. On Wednesday, the Brazilian family dropped its legal challenges.
Sean’s paternal grandfather, Barry Goldman, said he received his Christmas present Thursday when he got an early-morning phone call from his son, David, reporting Sean was with him. Barry Goldman spoke briefly to his grandson, who said, “Hi, Pop Pop.”
“It was wonderful to hear his voice,” said the grandfather, of Ocean Township. “I’m so excited. I’m going to get to hug him, kiss him, and have fun with my grandson.”
Boy appeared happy
Despite the “drama of the worst kind” surrounding the reunion, Sean appeared to be happy when he was handed over to his father, Smith said.
“Once he was with his dad they were smiling, with their arms around one another,” Smith said. “They looked just like best buddies.”
A little more than an hour later, they left the consulate for the airport. While they waited in a private area of the airport, they ate hamburgers, drank Coke and talked about basketball and about the recent snowfall in New Jersey, Smith said.
Silvana Bianchi, the maternal grandmother, had wanted to travel with Sean to the United States to ease his transition, but family lawyer Sergio Tostes said that wish was denied by the U.S. government. Tostes said the Brazilian government declined to intervene in the matter.
U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Orna Blum said the U.S. government and the consulate were not involved in the travel arrangements, which she said were handled by lawyers on both sides.
Goldman’s New Jersey lawyer, Patricia Apy, also criticized how the handover was conducted.
“Unfortunately, the Brazilian family, rather than have the handoff take place in a garage, which would have been secure, parked away and walked him through the press, which only serves to make the situation more stressful for the child,” Apy said.
Blum also said the tumult during the boy’s delivery could have been avoided.
“The family was offered the same access to the consulate as the father”, she said. “For whatever reason they chose to get out of their cars and walk in.”
Smith did not get on the plane with the Goldmans because, as a congressman, he is prohibited from flying on corporate flights. An ethics committee declined to grant him a waiver in this case, he said.
So Smith planned to fly home on an 11 p.m. Thursday flight, the earliest one he could find. And he vowed to continue fighting for other parents, from New Jersey and beyond, who are struggling to regain their children after parental abductions.
The congressman said the Goldmans, along with their extended family and friends, now will focus on returning to a “normal life.” They must work through their language barrier — David speaks no Portuguese — and figure out where Sean will go to school, he said.
“Sean now hopefully will become just another child living in Monmouth County,” he said.