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Sean Goldman's long trip home

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 28, 2009 - As David Goldman and his son Sean spend this holiday season at Disneyworld, it's no ordinary family vacation. Rather it is the culmination of a five-year custody battle that captured international attention and government intervention. A battle that David finally won.

How did this nightmare begin for this child then 4 years old?

In 2004, Sean and his now-deceased mother Bruna Bianchi went to Rio de Janiero, Brazil. She had told David that they were going on a two-week vacation to visit her family.

That holiday trip marked the beginning of a high-profile case that included a series of events: Bruna’s hiding Sean from David, her divorcing David and marrying a powerful lawyer Joao Paulo Lins e Silva. Since that marriage, Bruna and Lins e Silva, Sean’s new father figure, and her family have raised Sean without permitting David any contact with Sean.

Last year, when Sean’s mother tragically died in childbirth, David became the surviving parent and under the law, would automatically have the right to custody of his son.

David has made 10 visits to Brazil seeking to have contact with his child. At each turn he was refused such by the Brazilian court, except for a six hour visit in February 2009 arranged through the auspices of his congressman.

Even the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (“Hague Convention”) failed to provide relief to David. The convention establishes procedures for the prompt return of children abducted to other countries. Both Brazil and the USA are bound by this agreement as voluntary signatories.

American law provides that parents have custody rights to their children that can only be trumped by third parties in the case of unfitness, inability to parent, and if the welfare of the child requires otherwise. The media have reported no evidence that David Goldman should have been deprived of his custody rights in favor of the child’s stepfather or maternal grandparents.

The significant length of complete separation likely will create tremendous psychological confusion for Sean, possible regression, trouble with sleeping, eating and playing. Psychologist Dr. Jenn Berman suggests that both Dad and son will need therapy for dealing with issues of abandonment and trauma. Sean had no way of knowing or perhaps even understanding that his father was making valiant efforts to regain custody of him.

At a time when fathers are often stereotypically accused of being dead-beat dads, men who take no financial or emotional responsibility for their offspring, David Goldman is considered a hero for just doing the right thing. Persistently, at great expense, and with relentless passion.

The truth is that there are many mini Sean Goldman cases. There are mothers who defy court orders failing to allow court-ordered visitation and child custody to fathers and denying them regular telephone contact with their children. Mothers seek to alienate the children from their fathers, using them as tools for their own agendas. Sometimes they even tell the children that the step-father is the “real” dad.

The same can be also be said of fathers who, during their custody time, fail to accept telephone calls to the children from their mothers, refuse to notify them where the children are or who is caring for them in the absence of father. It is not uncommon that at the conclusion of their custody time, fathers do not return the children to their mothers, claiming the children would not and did not want to go back.

It is a two-way street, full of irresponsible adult behavior committed in ways that belie the love the violating parent proclaims. It robs children of their right to significant and meaningful contact with both parents and strips them of the simple joy of being a child in a world of decent adults.

An international custody battle is dramatically captured by the media. However, it is really not so different from the cases of children of a divorce within our own state. They too are troubling, especially for the effect that parental action or inaction has on the children in the middle.

While I laud David Goldman for his actions, I am sorry his first stop was Disneyworld. It makes me wonder if divorced adults understand that what a child might need more than a special vacation is consistent love, attention, routine. stability and time together.

After all this time away, I wish he were just taking him home.

Susan Block is a partner at Paule Camazine & Blumenthal where she has a family law practice. A retired judge, she served as administrative judge of the Family Court of St. Louis County. She serves on the board for Caring for Kids and was recently re-appointed by Gov. Jay Nixon to the Children’s Trust Fund. 

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