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.