A Brief Coda to the Sean Goldman Saga

A bit more than a year ago I thought we saw the end of a long running custody struggle involving a child named Sean Goldman.   (You can read up on the case at that earlier post.)   Sean returned to New Jersey with his father, David Goldman, after a series of rulings by courts in the US and in Brazil. 

As I say, I thought that was the end of it, but there’s one more twist.   Sean’s maternal grandparents, Silvana Bianchi Ribeiro and Raimundo Ribeiro Filho, sought visitation with Sean.   David Goldman didn’t completely oppose visitation, but he did insist on the imposition of a series of conditions.    As I understand it, these include things like ending all litigation over custody in Brazil and agreeing to forgo media coverage of the visit.   The grandparents didn’t agree to the conditions and David Goldman didn’t agree to the visitation.   The grandparents then sued in New Jersey. 

It’s unsurprising to me that the grandparents were rather curtly rebuffed by the New Jersey court.    Their earlier disregard for New Jersey court’s (in the main litigation over custody) would hardly endear them to New Jersey judges.   The conditions sought by David Goldman do not seem unreasonable under the circumstances here, so I would anticipate a similar result on appeal, should the grandparents appeal.  

Apart from rounding out the story, there’s a reason why this last development is noteworthy.   There’s a way in which the position the grandparents are now in is akin to that David Goldman was in when Sean was in Brazil.  In both instances, Sean had a developed relationship with people who cared for him, and that relationship was disrupted by the actions of the other party.  Thus, the grandparents disrupted Sean’s relationship with David by keeping Sean in Brazil (and as a result were in a position to establish their own relationship with Sean) and now David has disrupted Sean’s relationship with his grandparents by bringing Sean back to the US.    

From Sean’s point of view, the two events may seem similar–they are both about loss and disruption.  But from the law’s point of view, the two events are quite different.   David is a legal parent and thus, he has rights.  The grandparents interference with his relationship is wrongful and, even if it causes harm to Sean, he’s entitled to have Sean returned to his custody.  The grandparents are not legal parents.   Thus, they have no right to have Sean returned to them and they had no right to keep him, even if that had been clearly in Sean’s interest.  

So in the end I see this as a tale about the power of legal parenthood.    It’s a striking example of why it matters whether you are legally recognized as a parent or not.


30 responses to “A Brief Coda to the Sean Goldman Saga

  1. Do grandparents have visitation rights at all in New Jersey? I am surprise. I would have thought they have no case to start out with.

    (Even though I think grandparents should have some rights, I am surprised to hear about it…)

    • I don’t actually recall whether NJ has a visitation statute for grandparents, but it seems like it must. (I can check into this.) I think David didn’t want to be embroiled (again) in litigation in Brazil, and so his condition for visitation was that they not continue litigation in that forum. I suspect he was also worried about them trying to alienate Sean from him. But still, he was willing to allow visitation. It’s very very hard for grandparents to win more visitation when they are offered some–even if it is under conditions as it was here.

  2. Also why did David insist on making a condition for visitation that they drop the litigation? Was he afraid they might kidnap him? Perhaps other precautions could have been taken?

    But if it was just to use the issue as leverage over the litigation, that’s wrong to do to the child.

    • Grandparents should drop the litigation because IT IS OVER! A father’s rights trump a grandparent’s so-called rights any day of the week.
      David is NOT an unfit father and the g-parents and stepfather are a poor substitute for the love this biological father, David, has for his son, Sean. Most any psychiatrist will state that THE most important person in a child’s life is the same sex parent. This is DAVID, not the stepfather nor the grandparents.
      Sean was basically stolen from his father and this is the tragic part. David was treated so deplorably by these Brazilians. Now THEY complain??? How dare they complain after how they treated David? They were merciless, greedy, manipulative, dishonest, basically thieves. Nothing but contempt for them!

  3. In the end of the day, Sean is who suffering the most!! I fell so much sorry about him!! And today is his grandpa funeral and i dont even know if he was informed about it. In my opinion, who has the rigth to visit the other family IS Sean. And it has been denied ….poor boy!!!

    • Sean’s relationship with his biological father is FAR more important than his relationship with his g-parents. David is a man/father who loves his son dearly and it is apparent the g-parents are in in for purely selfish motives.
      If they truly love Sean, G-ma would thankfully and lovingly agree to the stipulations by David and counselors in the best interest of Sean.
      G-ma, how dare you manipulate to keep a son from his biological father who loves him??? How does it feel when the shoe is on the other foot?? Karma can hurt!
      These Brazilian grandparents deserve nothing. By their manipulative actions for 5 years, forbidding a father to see his only son, they show they are not to be trusted.

  4. Proud of David Goldman

    The only reason Sean Goldman even HAD a close relationship with his grandparents was that his mother ILLEGALLY took him to Brazil and kept him there. Then his stepfather and grandparents colluded in keeping Sean from being with his own biological/legal father!!

    Adriana, I have a feeling you are Brazilian and, therefore, completely biased toward the grandparents. Sorry, but David Goldman spent YEARS and every penny he had to get his son back. Those grandparents did everything they could to keep Sean from his father. Shame on them!! I have no sympathy for them whatsoever. HOORAY FOR DAVID AND SEAN GOLDMAN!!!!

  5. Sean should be able to see his surviving maternal grandmother, but it’s not David’s fault that he can’t. She wanted visitation her way or no way at all. That is just not going to happen.

    Dropping the litigation is not optional. Say she is allowed a visit, and Sean is picked up to go to the mall or out to eat. What is stopping them from heading to an airport and taking him back to Brazil? Keep in mind that since Sean has dual citizenship, there is probably a Brazilian passport they could use, and our border patrols are notoriously lacking when it comes to children.

    Contined litigation in Brazil would create a safe-haven should Sean be re-abducted, and the NJ judge even stated that in his ruling. David also stipulated monitoring of the visit and that English be spoken.

    Why doesn’t she adhere to the conditions set forth by David and a child psychologist? What grandparent wouldn’t agree to those terms to at least be able to see their grandchild? A grandparent with ulterior notives.

  6. Lovellboys, you are so right. From all I have read, David has taken the recommendation/advice of child psychologists in setting up the conditions that would keep Sean safe and not damage his father/son relationship with Sean. The grandparents as well as Sean’s stepfather spent years attempting to destroy Sean’s bond with David. They are dangerous. If they truly cared about Sean, they would abide by the reasonable conditions David has put forth. Even Sean’s deceased mother (David’s ex wife Bruna) admitted in phone calls to David that David was an excellent father. It is tragic for Sean that these grandparents are so self-centered that they want media involvement. After the initial flurry of media, David has done his best to keep Sean out of the spotlight.

  7. The soap opera is far from over. Now, due to the power the maternal family has in Brazil, they are getting the Brazilian Government involved to pressure the US to allow the grandmother to visit.

    I’m Brazilian but what is right is right. I hope the N. Jersey court keeps their instance and protects Sean from a clearly disturbed grandmother who is using her family ties to grant a parental right she clearly does not have.

  8. It appears to me that David Goldman has the welfare of his son foremost in his mind. The grandparents clearly have their OWN wants and needs in mind.
    I don’t know if I were David if I would even give them visitation at all this soon, after all the years they spent undermining and berating him in front of his son. He is a better person than I!
    May God bless David and Sean and keep them safe.

    • I’m reluctant to say who has what in mind. I don’t know. It seems to me possible that the grandparents developed a substantial relationship with Sean and could well be concerned with his own welfare. What is clear to me, however, is that there is no trust between these parties at this point. It does not seem unreasonable that Goldman would seek restrictions on contact with the grandparents under these circumstances.

  9. I don’t doubt that the grandparents love Sean. But the relationship, from everything I heard in the court procedings, did not seem to be a healthy relationship. If you really love a child and want what is best for him/her, you do not lie about something as important as a father’s love. Sean lost his mother and was led to believe that basically he lost his father to.
    I think the boundries David set for visitation, given the circumstances, are fair and understandable. The grandparents could have visited but instead chose to continue to on the path they are currently on.
    I divorced my children’s father, because of adultry, when my children were very small. My mother never uttered a word against my ex-husband in front of my children. She was never partial to either myself or my ex, even during our custody fights. My daughter cherished all the time she had with my mother before we lost her 10 years ago. To me, that is what a loving grandparent should be.

  10. In Brazil, David Goldman not has a good reputation – a man who lived financially at the expense of ex – wife and that currently it seems that there are arrangements for publishing the book and movie, which prevent Sean is visited by grandparents – Does the law U.S. constitutional, protection for citizens and their rights, they give voice to Sean? This boy could not be heard? What Sean needs is love to the family! As he is isolated, never will be a full adult. This father loves him, really?

    • I don’t have an special knowledge of the facts of the case beyond what is popularly reported, so I cannot really comment on some of the questions you raise. But I’d offer a few general observations.

      Reputation is something that judges do not often rely on. They prefer to examine facts–who did what when and why. Reputation is what other people think of you, and too often reputation is unjustified. For example, if the Brazilian grandparents were well thought of, David Goldman might have a bad reputation in Brazil no matter what he really is like.

      Figuring out what to do about the views of a child is a perennial problem in family law. Young children–under ten–often don’t know what is good for them. I’d be loathe to ask an eight year old about what she/he wants in many instances. Also, putting the child in the position of having to choose is often terribly destructive. At the same time, much of family law is about taking care of the interests of children so it is crucial to somehow consider their well-being if not their individual preferences.

      One device the law uses is to entrust decisions about a child to its parents. So, for example, parents get to decide what time kids go to bed and no one else gets to interfere. No one consults the child. It’s assumed that the parents, being on the spot, make the right choice.

      This is why it matters so much to be recognized as a parent. And that’s really what’s going on in the Goldman case. David Goldman is clearly Sean’s parent. Unless and until someone can demonstrate that he is unfit, he is entitled to make decisions for Sean. The only person who could challenge him is another parent–but in this case, Sean’s mother is deceased. Grandparents are not parents and so do not stand on the same platform. In the US, at least, grandparents cannot challenge the decisions parents make without demonstrating some sort of special circumstances, possibly amounting to unfitness. Were this case one between two parents it would look quite different.

    • I certainly hadn’t heard anything about a movie but David did write a book and good for him. There is nothing wrong about telling the world the ordeal he and his son went through from his point of view and, more importantly, keeping awareness on the issue (Dateline just featured the story again). Thousands of kids are involved in parental international abductions to Brazil and many other countries every year. That needs to change. The U.S. needs to do more, Brazil needs to do more, and the international community needs to do more to stop it.

      Speaking of a book though…David said he’d even encourage Sean to write a book if he wanted to (and when he is old enough) to portray the way he felt and experienced it. Sharing stories is not a bad thing and jumping to the conclusion that he is just trying to profit off the horrible experience he had is unfair to the parties involved.

  11. In response to Luma:
    It is my understanding that several child psychologist from BRAZIL said Sean was being emotionally abused by his grandparents and should be removed from the home immediately.
    Why is putting limitations on visits from them abuse?????

  12. CurtisJasper

    There was a follow-up to this story tonight on Dateline NBC. I have no idea if it’s true or not, but IF in fact the grandparents took Sean to a special facility and forced him, in front of paid witnesses, to denounce his own father on camera, they should not be granted visitation to Sean AT ALL without serious preconditions being set. I have serious doubts that the grandparents care about him personally beyond his legacy as their grandchild.

  13. I’m Brazilian, and I truly suport David.

    The brazilian so called “family” (I call then kidnappers) is wealthy and proud, they’re desperately using the mainstream media to play a victim’s role and get the crowd and government support.

    David’s reputation in brazilian media is created by those protectionists journalists who insists to create a story and remove the guilty from the grandmother.

    • I don’t mean to quash debate here, but most of us will never have access to enough facts to make independent judgments about the merits of the behavior at issue here. I’ve tried to keep the discussion mostly about the law–this is a case that illustrates the importance of the preference for custody with a legal parent, which is a tenant of US and (I gather) Brazillian law. Because of the preference for parents, the court doesn’t measure the relative merits of the parties. The parent wins.

  14. Rudy Sennheiser

    I think in an attempt to be even handed, you minimize the hurt that was caused by his mother and her family.
    There are more than enough facts to make independent judgements about the merits of the behavior at issue here.

  15. I’m curious to see what will happen when this child will be a teenager and an adult, how he will judge those adults who just care about “their rights”. I understand the point of view of J. Shapiro, but the Law doesn’t consider the bond created between the grand parents with the child?

    • This is a fair point and it’s something I wonder about in many of the cases created here. As I’ve frequently noted, our law (and the law of Brazil) gives protection to parental rights (as opposed, say, to grandparentalrights.) You can justify that by saying that parents have rights and you can also justify that by saying that in general, recognizing parental rights protects chidren. But it might be that in a solely child-focused system you wouldn’t care about the status of the people involved, you’d care only about the child’s relationships with people.

      You’d still have the problem of what to do when someone gains time with the child (and disrupts someone else’s relationship with the child) in violation of law. Again–if you focused only on the child you might say that it doesn’ t matter if the child was kidnapped–all that matters is the nature of the child/adult bond. (I’m not meaning to comment here on the specific facts of the Goldman case, by the way, just to set out the principle.) Virtually no legal system can abide this outcome, though. If a person builds a relationship with a child on an act that is in violation of a court order, then the relationship is typically ignored in favor of honoring the court order. The idea here is that we cannot reward defiance of the law this way as, in the greater scheme of things, compliance is more important than the individuals in any one case. Again, this does mean that children find their relationships disrupted for what we consider the greater good.

      And that takes me back to the beginning–it is a fair question to ask–what will happen in the future. We never know that–even as time unfolds, it will unfold with Sean one place and not another.

  16. http://bringseanhome.org/wordpress/category/goldman-case/
    this is the outcome of their suit in New Jersey as of Feb. 17, 2011

  17. Honestly my husband was kept away from his son. He fought and won every other weekend. As the child grew his mother who was wealthy threw in expensive gifts to keep the boy interested in her and lifestyle. Today he is a very confused young adult living with us and resenting his mom, that he now knows she lied to him one time to many. I’ve follow the Goldman case and honesrly believe that Sean should live with his father since his mother kidnap him and then his grandparents. In the long run the one that manipulates the child and mentally tries to hurt his releationship with the other will also be in the receiving end of his recentments. Children do grow up.

  18. The fact is that Bruna and her family broke the law, David did not. He worked within the difficult Brazilian legal system against a very powerful, wealthy and connected legal family. He wanted to raise his own son in his own country. He wanted to raise him because he is the father and that’s what parents do. He wanted to raise him because he had raised him for the first four years of his life. Just because the grandparents were able to develop a relationship with the boy because of numerous illegal acts over five plus years, does not mean they should be awarded for it.

    From everything I have read, David has taken serious, thoughtful and loving steps in dealing with Sean’s reentry to his life here. They started counseling right away, he got him a tutor who speaks Portuguese, he enrolled him in school, encourages him to compete in sports and other activities, and taught him how to ride a bike. He is also taking legal advice about how to deal with the grandparents. Mimi is right, if they were decent grandparents they would do what is right for Sean. They would just love him and take him to the zoo. Since their daughter died, they (and by they I mean the grandmother) have put enormous pressure on him to basically take her place. The grandmother even stated that since her daughter died, Sean is now her child. A team of three (3) Brazilian psychiatrists hired by the family all concluded that Sean was under enormous pressure and was being taught to mistrust and even hate his father. Sean was told how bad his dad was (even though Bruna called him an excellent father), and how they had to save Sean from David and life in the U.S.

    Bruna was a typical, spoiled upper class girl from Brazil. She wanted to be pampered and treated like a queen. She complained because David wasn’t rich, not because he wasn’t a good husband or father. It was because he couldn’t buy her a mansion and take her on months long exotic trips. When they first married he was a model so there was tons of money and exciting trips. When life became more normal, and David had his charter fishing business and she taught school it became too dull for her. Her parents promised her everything she wanted in Brazil, so she found herself a rich, powerful husband, and tore her son away from his father and half of his family. She wanted what she wanted when and how she wanted it. And her parents wanted their daughter and grandson in their home in their country. David, his family and especially Sean were just so much collateral damage. She wasn’t saving Sean from a bad father, she was tearing him away from a devoted one. That’s what selfish people do.

    • Well, Bruna never lived to enjoy her rich husband, son and baby girl. Strange how life can turn out! Karma??? Obviously Bruna had her own self-interest, not caring about the best for her son. With her out of the picture, legal guardianship should be the biological father, not stepfather, nor g-parents. Stepfather has ZERO rights over a fit loving biological father.
      Most psychiatrists say THE most important person in a child’s life is THE same-sex parent. This would be David, not g-parents, half-sister or stepfather!

      • I’m sort of amazed that there are still more comments offered on this case. I suppose it is testimony to the ways in which stories like this capture the imagination.

        Even though I draw many of the entries here from cases/stories in the news, I am wary of over-generalizing. And I’m also conscious that I never really know the facts of the cases I read about. I cannot speak to the motivations of the individuals are the particulars of any one child’s life, but at the same time I think those particulars matter quite a bit. I am not comfortable with broad statements like “the most important person in the child’s life is the same-sex parent.” Perhaps that is true in 60 out of a 100 cases (or perhaps not) but what about the 40 (or however many) when it is not true?

  19. If you have followed this story then you know the custody fight wasn’t even with the Grandparents which would have made more sense. The battle was between the boys Dad and what was once his stepfather. I couldn’t believe there was even a question of custody! But where the grandparents went wrong and should lose their rights to the child is when they backed the USE TO BE stepfather. Step parents have no legal rights in the states, and once the parent is deceaced their should be no question as to the best interest of the child. Obviously it is with the parent, in this case being David. The grandparents didn’t look out for thier grandsons best interest. The was looking at in from their a selfish point of view in my oppinion. They wanted thier grandson where they could see him now and then but wasn’t willing to raise him

  20. Hi Julie,

    I think Sean must be with his the father…once his mom passed away…

    What I completly disagree is that the world’s laws doesnt respect the NATURE LAW of knowing that the best place of a child is in his/her mom’s lap..
    When Bruna went to Brazil and asked for the divorce the law called her a KIDNAPPER… but the NATURE LAW call it a mother basic instinct!
    What mother would do the same to keep her child with her???

    Bruna and her family NEVER denied David’s visits.( Is what it show in the doc in the video im showing.) and just to make clear:Bruna’s family is a good and rich family..not beacuse of the stepfather.Her own family has a very good situattion.

    Unfortunelly Bruna died…and of course all the rights goes to the father to keep Sean…but why cant the grandparents visit Sean? Its simple like that….

    roberta vieira

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