Brazil top judge to rule on U.S. custody case

RIO DE JANEIRO Mon Dec 21, 2009 5:27pm EST

1 of 5. David Goldman shows a letter during a news conference in Rio de Janeiro, December 18, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Bruno Domingos

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RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - The Brazilian Supreme Court's top judge delayed until Tuesday a ruling on whether a 9-year-old boy at the center of an international custody battle will be reunited with his father and return to the United States.

A ruling in the case of Sean Goldman, whose father David Goldman is an American and whose mother Bruna Bianchi was a Brazilian who died last year, had been expected on Monday. But a spokesman for Chief Justice Gilmar Mendes told Reuters late on Monday the ruling would be announced the following day.

The Goldman case has reached the highest levels of both governments and threatened to mar Brazil-U.S. relations.

Bianchi took Sean from the United States to her native Brazil in 2004, then divorced Goldman and stayed with the boy in the South American country, in what the Goldman and the U.S. government call a clear case of international child abduction.

Since Bianchi's death, her family and second husband have fought to keep Sean in Brazil, saying he has settled in the country and does not want to go back the United States.

Last Thursday another Supreme Court judge blocked a decision by a federal court earlier in the week ordering the return of the boy to U.S. authorities within 48 hours.

The father, who has only seen Sean in brief visits to Brazil since 2004, and Brazil's attorney general appealed that ruling, asking for Sean to be handed over immediately.

Goldman, who lives in the U.S. state of New Jersey, flew to Brazil on Thursday after the federal court ruling.

The lawyer for the Brazilian family told Reuters that Sean had a right for his voice to be heard in court -- the reason given by the Supreme Court judge on Thursday.

"I don't say his opinion must be followed but he does have the right, a constitutional right in the U.S., and a right under all the U.N. resolutions to be heard," Sergio Tostes said.

Mendes' ruling would need eventual approval by the full court but it could still allow Goldman to take his son back to the United States now.

Goldman and Brazil's attorney general said in their appeals that that the earlier judge's ruling was contrary to the Hague convention on international child abduction that both Brazil and the United States have signed.

The case has sparked strong emotions and growing political repercussions, leading to comparisons with the case of Elian Gonzalez, a Cuban boy who was at the center of a heated controversy involving the Cuban and U.S. governments in 2000.

New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg last week delayed a trade bill that would have extended duty-free benefits on some Brazil exports, citing the Goldman case. Brazil's Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper reported over the weekend that those benefits were worth $3 billion to Brazil in 2008.

(Additional reporting by Raymond Colitt and Ana Paula Paiva in Brasilia; Editing by Bill Trott)

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