Sean Goldman One More Time: Because Family Sagas Never Really End?

There’s been a very long and very high profile legal struggle over the fate of a (now 11-year-old) boy named Sean Goldman that I have written about from time to time.  (That link will pick up most of the entries and probably a few stray items as well.)  The last post was over a year ago and I thought I was done then.

But it seems family sagas (or at least some family sagas) never end.   Here’s the story back in today’s news.  The immediate trigger here seems to be that Sean Goldman himself will for the first time be interviewed on TV tonight.

I won’t recap the story in detail here as you can read the history a dozen places on the web, including my old posts.   Suffice it to say that after a struggle that occupied courts in the US and Brazil, Sean now lives with his father, David, in NJ.   His mother, who was Brazilian, died some years ago.  Sean lived in Brazil with her parents for a couple of years after her death while the litigation wound through Brazilian courts.   And those same grandparents maintain some claims (I’m not clear whether they are only claims for custody) today.   Given the history of the parties, I gather the grandparents have been offered visitation under some restrictions, which I gather are designed to ensure that Sean doesn’t end up permanently relocated to Brazil.

There’s both a story and a meta-story (by which I mean a story about the story) here.   The meta-story, which I find somewhat disturbing, is about how this case is played out in the media.   As the clip from the Today Show notes, the handover of Sean to David in Brazil was televised (probably live), apparently because the grandparents thought this would improve their case.  (I cannot believe that the grandparents thought the television coverage itself was good for Sean.)

Now it’s David Goldman’s turn to call in the media.   (I know he says this is Sean’s decision, but Sean is 11 years old and so whatever Sean’s inclinations, I think the final call on this has to be David’s.  Surely no one would interview Sean on camera without his consent.)

For whatever reasons, this case has inspired a great deal of general public interest.   This isn’t the only case of its kind–an international custody struggle–but it’s surely the most high profile.   Many people have extraordinarily strong feelings about the case and while I certainly understand that those most closely involved would,  I am continually surprised by the number of people with strong feelings who don’t have first-hand knowledge.  It is that broader fascination, though, that drives the media’s interest.  I mean, Dateline and Today are looking for viewers.   (As, I suppose I should admit, am I.)

The meta-story leads me to two sets of questions, one around why the case is so fascinating and the other around how so many people who only have exposure to the various forms of publicity are so sure they know what is really going on.   I think it is hard enough to know the truth of what’s just gone on between my kids when they argue and I was out of the room, so I really cannot fathom how people can be sure they know the truth about all the details here.

To be clear, I don’t think you actually have to know the truth about all the details to have an opinion here–you could favor David knowing only his genetic connection to the child.   In some ways this makes it even more striking that people profess certainty as to the facts.

On some level I suppose I cannot blame the parties for using the media.   I’m prepared to believe that each side believes that Sean’s best interests are at stake.    If you think those are the stakes and if you care for the boy, I think you do the best you can with the tools at hand.  You hire the best lawyers.  You have them make the best arguments.  And, assuming you think it’s okay for Sean, you call in the media.   But from my point of view, as an outsider, it’s hard not to look at the media circus and cringe just a little.

So much for the meta-story.  I wonder if taking the time to discuss it makes me part of the problem?   Now I have to figure out if I want to go on to write about the underlying case (again).   That’s for another day, though.

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3 responses to “Sean Goldman One More Time: Because Family Sagas Never Really End?

  1. Nicely written, and well-reasoned. However, I would like to point out one thing. You say “the handover of Sean to David in Brazil was televised (probably live), apparently because the grandparents thought this would improve their case.” The grandparents and step-father deliberately engineered this public display for television. As has been reported in the U.S. press, and here in Brazil, none of it was necessary. Sean could have been easily slipped out of the country, without fanfare. I find it incredible that of all the memories Sean Goldman discusses, it is this travesty that disturbs him most–a self-serving concoction of an uncaring step-father and a grandmother whose intentions appear increasingly selfish as time passes.

    • I meant to make just this point. It appears a concrete instance of adults acting in ways that they might have thought served their interests but hardly served those of the child

  2. The story got massive attention because it’s one of the most clear-cut examples of international child abduction you could ever ask for. The mother left the US with the kid deceptively, sure, but the real hook is that even when she DIED he was not returned to his only living parent. And this is all happening in Brasil, which signed onto the Hague Convention and therefore was bound to hand Sean over IMMEDIATELY and flagrantly ignored its own sovereign treaty.

    If Bruna hadn’t died, we may never have heard of this. And it doesn’t hurt that David is young, attractive and an emotionally compelling speaker. No other international parental abduction case has all of those elements that I can think of.

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