Heartened by a Supreme Court ruling in Brazil that rejected a challenge to his custody rights, a New Jersey father hopes that he is finally moving closer to regaining custody of his 9-year-old son after a five-year battle with the Brazilian family that claims the boy as their own.
“I hope it’s over soon,” David Goldman told TODAY’s Erin Burnett from Rio de Janeiro Thursday morning, the day after Brazil’s Supreme Court rebuffed a bid by a political party to stop him from taking his son, Sean, home to the United States. But the boy's return to the U.S. is likely to be delayed by further legal appeals.
Goldman said that Brazil’s high court also confirmed his claims that the influential Brazilian family with whom Sean has been living since 2004 has been trying to alienate the boy from his natural father.
Alienation of affection
“It was finally exposed yesterday in the court that these people holding him have been basically waging a several-year campaign to turn my son against me and everything about his memory from life with me back home in New Jersey,” Goldman told Burnett. “[They were] saying things to him, that his father abandoned him, his father didn’t love him.”
The Supreme Court called what the Brazilian family was doing “parental alienation,” Goldman said.
Goldman has been able to visit Sean several times this year under close and constant surveillance. He said that on his most recent visit, Sean told him, “I have two fathers now.”
Goldman said he told Sean that’s an improvement. “The last time they told you to call me ‘David’ when you called me Dad,” he told his son. Sean, Goldman added to Burnett, “is in a terrible emotional environment.”
Goldman also said that instead of being occasions of joy, his visits with Sean in Brazil have been emotionally trying for both of them. “The conditions are not fit or suitable for a father and a son. We are constantly under surveillance and it is damaging to him and to us,” he told Burnett. “Ultimately, he’s my son; we have a connection. We want to laugh, we want to play, we want our natural God-given right to be father and son. And they’re doing everything they can to prohibit that.”
In its 10-0 decision Wednesday, the Supreme Court refused to consider a request by Brazil’s Progressive Party that argued it would be wrong to take Sean Goldman from his stepfather’s custody in Brazil after five years in the South American nation.
The boy’s Brazilian mother remarried and died after bearing a daughter last year. Sean’s stepfather wants the boy to remain with his sister and Brazilian family.
What began as a family dispute has become an international controversy.
President Barack Obama discussed the custody case with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Washington, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton lobbied for the boy’s return to live with father David Goldman, of New Jersey.
And last week U.S. Congressman Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican, introduced a bill that would temporarily remove Brazil from a duty-free trade program. He says Brazil received $2.75 billion in U.S. trade benefits last year.
Father pleased with decision
But David Goldman’s attorney said Wednesday that a federal court in Rio de Janeiro, which previously ruled the boy be returned to the U.S., still must consider another appeal from the boy’s stepfamily.
Lawyer Ricardo Zamariola said: “Sean will not be able to leave immediately because a federal court of appeals in Rio de Janeiro has ordered that the boy remain in Brazil until it rules on an appeal filed by Sean’s stepfamily.”
Nevertheless, David Goldman said he was pleased with the Supreme Court decision.
“I hope it will diminish the time away from my son.”
Goldman said that the hearing also made public another issue that he had been legally barred from discussing: “The psychological damage that has been inflicted on my son is finally out in the open,” he said. “There’s no words to describe the anxiety and the pain that I feel from that. Fortunately, it’s been exposed.”
Goldman’s lawyer told the judges about reports by three court-appointed psychologists who found Sean was suffering.
‘Up to the judge’
At the hearing, Sergio Tostes, the Brazilian family’s attorney, said that when asked in which country he preferred to live, Sean told a family-appointed psychologist: “It makes no difference to me. It’s up to the judge.”
A few weeks ago, Tostes said Sean told the psychologist that he wanted to stay in Brazil with his sister and friends at his current school.
Repeated calls to Tostes for further comment went unanswered.
Courts in Brazil have been weighing David Goldman’s rights under the Hague Convention on international child abductions against Brazilian law.
At the Supreme Court on Wednesday, the government’s solicitor general, Jose Antonio Dias Toffoli, told justices that if Brazil does not respect the convention, it “runs the risk of having its requests for the return of Brazilian children facing similar situations abroad denied.”
The convention requires that participating countries return abducted or wrongfully retained children to the country of their “habitual residence.”
In 2004, Sean’s mother, Bruna Bianchi, took him for a two-week vacation to her native Brazil and never returned. She divorced David Goldman in Brazil and married Rio de Janeiro lawyer Joao Paulo Lins e Silva.
She died last year of complications from the birth of another child, and a Rio de Janeiro state court granted Lins e Silva temporary custody of Sean.
Last week, a lower court ruling that Sean Goldman be returned to the U.S. was suspended by a supreme court justice based on a petition filed by the conservative Progressive Party, which argued that the boy has been living in the country for five years and would be stripped of his current family environment of “happiness, love and comprehension.”
The Associated Press contributed reporting to this story.