Brazilian Family Gives Up Fight

December 23, 2009

avid Goldman’s bitter five-year battle to regain custody of his son neared conclusion Wednesday, when the child’s Brazilian family halted its legal efforts as a court-ordered deadline for delivering the boy loomed.

Goldman, of Tinton Falls, N.J., has said repeatedly that until he is on a plane heading to the U.S. with 9-year-old Sean at his side, he would not feel relief. But with a court ordering the boy’s handover Thursday morning at the U.S. Consulate, the end appeared to be in sight.

Goldman’s fight against a powerful family of Rio de Janeiro lawyers — a David vs. Goliath matchup in a nation where the wealthy are used to coming out on top — shifted in recent months, legally and among ordinary Brazilians.

The case was once largely viewed through a nationalistic lens. But with Goldman’s persistent fighting it has come to be seen on talk shows and in neighborhood bars as a dad simply trying to be with his son.

Which is how Goldman has always framed it.

“Sean is my family, Sean is my son. It is our right to be together, not just a rule of law, not just a treaty, not he’s Brazilian, not he’s American, not he’s from anywhere. He’s my son and I should be able to raise my son and he should know his dad,” Goldman said this week.

Goldman won a big legal victory late Tuesday when Brazil’s chief justice upheld a lower court’s ruling that ordered Sean returned to him. Sean has lived in Brazil since Goldman’s ex-wife, Bruna Bianchi, took him to her native country for what was supposed to be a two-week vacation in 2004. Last year she died in childbirth.

Sean’s stepfather, Joao Paulo Lins e Silva, has continued the fight, winning temporary custody in Brazil of the boy. He looked prepared to keep him in the family’s massive compound with multiple buildings surrounded by tropical trees, a large wall and gate where expensive SUVs pass through and security guards keep 24-hour watch.

Lins e Silva, a prominent divorce attorney in his father’s family law firm, used all legal means available to keep the boy in Brazil. Despite numerous court rulings in favor of Goldman, Lins e Silva continuously found an appeal route that delayed a handover.

But those court battles are now over.

Interpol alerted

U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who has strongly supported Goldman for a year and is in Brazil with him, said Goldman’s lawyers believe Brazil’s federal police are authorized to remove the child from the family if the court deadline is not met. He also said the international police agency Interpol has been notified to make sure Sean is not spirited out of the country by his Brazilian relatives.

Goldman declined to comment Wednesday, as did the Brazilian family’s attorney, Sergio Tostes, who referred all questions to his office.

An aide for Tostes said the legal fight was over.

“It is certain the family will not pursue any more legal channels,” the aide said, speaking on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to discuss the matter.

Despite that and a federal court order that the boy be handed over by 9 a.m. local time — 6 a.m. EST — today, Smith said Goldman remains cautious.

Goldman has seen his son only twice in the five years since his then-wife took the child to visit her family in Brazil, then informed him she wanted a divorce. After a Brazilian court granted the divorce, a New Jersey court awarded Goldman custody of his son.

In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said a U.S. passport had been issued for Sean and delivered to his father in Brazil.

“Many people have been up through the night to provide support for the Goldman family, to maintain contact with the Brazilian government as we hopefully come to the end of this process,” Crowley told reporters.

Heartache for Bianchis

Silvana Bianchi, Sean’s maternal grandmother, blamed international pressure — in particular, the U.S. Senate’s delay in renewing a trade bill worth $2.75 billion a year to Brazil — for losing her grandson.

She lodged an appeal before the Supreme Court last week, petitioning that the boy’s own testimony about where he wanted to live be heard. That was denied Tuesday by Brazil’s chief justice Gilmar Mendes.

“He is really sad, he doesn’t want to go,” she told the Estado de S. Paulo newspaper. “Gilmar Mendes stripped him of his right to expression, to open his mouth and say he doesn’t want to go. In his own country, he’s not respected. Here, he’s under a gag rule.”

Goldman has contended, however, that his son wants to return with him and that he has been under undue pressure from his Brazilian family for the past five years.

Christopher Schmidt, a St. Louis-based attorney with Bryan Cave LLP, said the slow-moving Brazil court system is what failed in this case.

“The critical lesson from this tragic story is to not permit these child abduction cases to spiral into protracted custody disputes, as happened in Brazil,” he said. “While Brazil finally made the right decision, Brazil breached its fundamental obligation to decide the abduction case expeditiously.”

U.S. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J., had placed a “hold” on the trade bill, which affected more than 130 nations, as a protest to Brazil’s delaying action on the child custody case. The senator ended his opposition to the bill, which was passed by the Senate, after word came that Brazil’s chief justice had ruled in Goldman’s favor.

Lautenberg said that “. . . we brought out the hammer and let the Brazilians know we were not going to stand by and let this take place without intervention.”

He said holding up the bill “seemed to turn the tide.”

“With David Goldman working five years on this, it needed this kind of a kick to get it started,” Lautenberg said.

“Time to do this”

New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine said in a statement: “The decision of the Brazilian Supreme Court affirms the bond between a parent and child is one that is sacred and should be honored.”

Legislators in the state’s 12th District, which includes Tinton Falls, said in a prepared release: “It’s so heartening to see that justice is being served and that David will soon have his son home after so many years without him.”

“It’s not likely to be an easy transition for Sean, but David’s willingness to permit his son’s Brazilian relatives to remain in touch with Sean will surely be a help as he readjusts to life in America,” said the lawmakers, state Sen. Jennifer Beck and Assembly members Declan O’Scanlon and Caroline Casagrande, all R-Monmouth.

For Smith, the time had simply come for Goldman and his son to go home.

“David and his team are encouraged that the nightmare is coming to an end,” Smith said. “No more delays. It’s time to do this.”

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