U.S. News

Brazil top judge orders U.S. boy returned to father

BRASILIA (Reuters) - The Brazilian Supreme Court’s top judge ruled on Tuesday that Sean Goldman, the 9-year-old boy at the center of an international custody battle, must be reunited with his father and return to the United States.

The ruling is a major victory for his American father, David Goldman, who has been fighting a drawn-out custody battle that reached the top levels of the Brazil and U.S. governments and threatened to sour relations.

Goldman has been fighting to bring his son home since 2004 when Bruna Bianchi, his then-wife and Sean’s mother, brought the boy to her native Brazil and then divorced Goldman. She died last year.

Chief Justice Gilmar Mendes’ ruling late on Tuesday upholds a federal court decision last week that gave the Brazilian family 48 hours to hand over Sean to U.S. authorities.

His ruling is preliminary and needs approval by the full court but it is immediately binding and could therefore allow Goldman to take his son back to the United States.

Lawyers for the Brazilian family have said they plan to appeal. An assistant to their main lawyer told Reuters he was waiting to see Mendes’ full ruling before deciding on any action.

Neither lawyers for David Goldman or U.S. Embassy officials were immediately available for comment.

“The decision by the president of the Supreme Court re-establishes the decision of the Tribunal of Rio de Janeiro which brought custody of the son to the biological father,” said Supreme Court spokesman Renato Parente.

Goldman flew to Brazil after the Rio court ruling with hopes for an end to the saga but it was blocked shortly afterward by a ruling from another Supreme Court judge who argued that Sean’s own opinion should be heard in court.

The father, a New Jersey resident who has only seen Sean in brief visits to Brazil since 2004, and Brazil’s attorney general appealed that ruling.

Goldman and the U.S. government say Sean’s case is clearly one of international child abduction under the Hague Convention on child protection that both countries have signed.

Bianchi’s family and her 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.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had called on Brazil to allow Sean to return with his father. New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg last week delayed a trade bill that would have extended several billion dollars’ worth of duty-free benefits on some Brazil exports, citing the Goldman case.

Writing by Peter Murphy and Stuart Grudgings; editing by Billl Trott