Brazil: Boy ordered returned to US dad's custody

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) - December 22, 2009

According to the court's Web site, Chief Justice Gilmar Mendes ruled /*David Goldman*/'s 9-year-old son must be delivered to him by the boy's Brazilian relatives, as a federal court ordered last week. A time frame for the handover was not clear.

The ruling put Goldman one step closer to finally being reunited with his son, Sean. /*Sean Goldman*/ was taken by Goldman's now-deceased ex-wife to her native Brazil in 2004, where he has remained. Goldman has been fighting to get him back from the boy's stepfather.

Lawyers on both sides have said there was still a chance for the Brazilian family to appeal to Brazil's highest appeals court, though the chances of success seemed slight.

A member of Goldman's team reached just minutes after the ruling described the father as happy, but said he had seen earlier rulings ordering Sean's return be blocked and was waiting to see if the latest ruling would stick or be enforced.

Goldman, who lives in Tinton Falls, New Jersey, declined to comment until he learned more details.

For days the Goldman camp has expressed worries the Brazilian family might try to flee or hide Sean.

Calls to the Brazilian family's lawyer were not immediately returned.

Both the U.S. and Brazilian governments argued that the case clearly fell under the Hague Convention, which seeks to ensure that custody decisions are made by the courts in the country where a child originally lived - in this case, the United States.

A lawyer specializing in the Hague Convention said Tuesday's decision by Mendes was the only right one to make.

"It would be virtually impossible to reconcile international law with a ruling in favor of the Brazilian family," said Greg Lewen of the Miami-based law firm Fowler White Burnett.

He said that if the Hague Convention were not followed by the chief justice, "the State Department should immediately issue a travel advisory warning parents not to go to Brazil with their children."

Goldman launched his case in U.S. and Brazilian courts after Sean was brought by his mother in 2004 to her home country, where she then divorced Goldman and remarried. She died last year in childbirth, and the boy has lived with his stepfather since.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Sunday, Goldman said he would allow Sean's Brazilian relatives to visit with his son if he won the case. "I will not do to them what they've done to Sean and me," he said.

The case has affected diplomatic ties between Brazil and the U.S., and has been discussed by President Barack Obama and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Last week, a U.S. senator reacted to the case by blocking renewal of a $2.75 billion trade deal that would lift U.S. tariffs on some Brazilian goods.

The U.S. State Department pressed for the boy to be returned. But a Brazilian Supreme Court justice on Thursday stayed the lower court decision ordering Sean to be turned over to his father.

Goldman and Brazil's attorney general both filed appeals Friday asking the Supreme Court to overturn the justice's decision to block Sean's return while the court considers hearing direct testimony from the boy. On Tuesday, Mendes ruled the order no longer valid.

The Brazilian family's lawyer, Sergio Tostes, had told the AP that he would like to see a negotiated settlement, saying he wanted to end the damage being done to Sean and to U.S.-Brazil relations.

"We're raising the white flag and saying: 'Let's get together, let's talk. We're the adults, we have responsibilities, so let's start to have a constructive conversation,"' Tostes said.

Goldman, however, was in never in a mood to negotiate.

"This isn't about a shared custody - I'm his dad, I'm his only parent," Goldman said. "This isn't a custody case - it's an abduction case."

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