Sean Goldman: Home by Christmas

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Bruno Domingos / Reuters

David Goldman, with U.S. Rep Chris Smith (L), arrives at a news conference in Rio de Janeiro December 18, 2009. New Jersey resident Goldman has been fighting for custody of Sean Goldman, since 2004.

Updated: Dec. 24, 7.00am ET

The long-running battle for custody of 9-year old Sean Goldman ended Thursday morning with the boy's Brazilian stepfamily delivering him to his American father in Brazil, bringing to an end the five-year saga. Sean Goldman was brought into the U.S. consulate by his maternal grandmother and his stepfather, entering the compound's front door as a throng of reporters and cameramen tried to get close. His father, David Goldman, was waiting for him inside. Sean cried as his Brazilian relatives and family lawyer tried to get him through the scrum. He carried his luggage and wore a gold shirt with the Brazilian flag and Olympic rings underneath. Goldman didn't speak as he was led from a black SUV across the street to the consulate. His maternal grandmother, Silvana Bianchi, said in tears that "this is a very difficult moment."

The case neared its conclusion Wednesday when lawyers for the boy's Brazilian stepfamily said they were giving up the fight and handing him back to his American dad. "There comes a time when you have to say the war is over," Sergio Tostes, lawyer for Sean's step father João Paulo Lins e Silva told TIME. "We could appeal but that would only prolong the suffering. We don't want to prolong this any more."

Tostes said he was speaking with representatives from the office of Brazil's Attorney General to make the practical arrangements for handing over the boy. The AG's office is the plaintiff in the case, and the legally proper authority to decide where and when Sean would be returned to his father, Tostes said. He promised the step family would work to ensure the transition was "as smooth as possible" and suggested the handover would not take place until Christmas Eve at the earliest. That deadline was given added weight later on Wednesday when a federal court in Rio later said the handover must be completed at the U.S. consulate by 9 a.m. on Thursday.

The president of Brazil's Supreme Court ruled Tuesday night that Sean must be returned to his American father immediately. Yet there had been concern that the stepfamily would appeal the ruling, as it had done in response to every previous unfavorable decision. If an appeal had been made, it would have required that the case be heard by all 11 judges on the Supreme Court bench — and because the court does not return from recess until Feb. 1, that would have meant Sean spending yet another Christmas away from his father.

Tostes' statement appears to have quashed that possibility, freeing Sean to return with his dad to New Jersey — where he has not lived for the past five years. According to news reports, the boy barely speaks English now. Lawyers for Goldman did not return telephone calls.

Sean was born in New Jersey in 2000, the only son of David Goldman and his Brazilian wife, Bruna Bianchi. However, Bruna brought the child to visit her family in Brazil in 2004 and never returned. She divorced David and married Joao Paulo Lins e Silva, a well-known Rio de Janeiro lawyer. The couple kept Sean in Brazil, and David Goldman's legal efforts to regain custody were rebuffed by Brazilian courts on the grounds that the boy's relationship with his mother was his primary bond.

Bianchi then fell pregnant with her new husband's child but died in childbirth in 2008. Her husband refused to return Sean to his father, and has been fighting for custody ever since. He and his Brazilian family said the child had spent so long in Brazil that it would be cruel to return him to a father he hardly knew.

A Federal appeals court in Rio de Janeiro last week ruled in favor of Goldman, and gave the stepfamily 48 hours to hand the boy over. But a Supreme Court judge overturned that ruling on appeal. Although the court was not obliged to take up the case again until after its return from recess, Mendes, the court's president, classed the matter as urgent and decided to rule immediately.

He ruled on Tuesday night that that as a signatory to the Hague Convention on the protection of children, Brazil was obliged to return the boy. Governments of both Brazil and the U.S. agreed and Mendes warned in his ruling that if Brazil did not hand him over it would weaken the position of Brazilian parents when arguing cases with other governments.

The Goldman case has caused considerable controversy in both Brazil and the U.S., with the presidents of both nations publicly proclaiming that Sean should be returned to his father. Public opinion, also, has been fervent and divided. Many Brazilians believe the boy should be reunited with his father, but others criticized David Goldman for not visiting his son after he had been taken to Brazil.