Father's Christmas reunion with the son he lost in Brazil

Five-year custody battle with family of deceased wife ends after court sends boy back to America

For David Goldman of New Jersey this was one Christmas gift that needed no wrapping. The son he hadn't seen for five years was curled up and asleep in the seat of a private jet, high in the sky en route at last from Brazil to the United States. "We're on our way," the father said. "My heart is just melting."

Thus ended a trans-continental child custody struggle that has held the media of both the US and Brazil in its thrall for months as the pendulum of legal advantage swung wildly back and forth between the Brazilian family, who were struggling to keep nine-year-old Sean, and the anguished father back in the US, who even managed to get President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to weigh in on his side.

Any father's nightmare, it began in 2004 when his then wife, Bruna Bianchi, took the boy, Sean, on what was meant to be a two-week holiday to see family in her native Brazil. She never returned home to New Jersey, however. Instead she stayed in Brazil, divorced Mr Goldman and married a prominent divorce lawyer there. They held on to Sean, in a case that the US government eventually called an abduction. But Ms Bianchi died in child-birth last year.

The top court in Brazil finally ruled definitively this week that Mr Goldman, as the boy's only living blood parent, should have custody. And so, on board the jet chartered by NBC television, Mr Goldman returned there to reunite with Sean at the US consulate in an atmosphere, he hoped, of calm and privacy. The hand-over did indeed happen in Rio de Janeiro on Christmas Eve and within hours the father and son – with NBC reporters and Mr Goldman's member of Congress, Chris Smith, in tow – were above the clouds headed to Orlando, Florida. According to family friends, they were to remain in Florida for a few days with a possible Christmas Day visit to Disney World.

Whatever celebrations they managed yesterday surely contrasted sharply with the pandemonium on Thursday. The dignity and sensitivity that Mr Goldman said he had been expecting did not quite happen. It might have done, US officials intimated, if the lawyers for the Brazilian family had listened to their advice and driven the car with Sean onboard directly into a private garage at the consulate.

Rather, they parked on the public street and found themselves barging with the bewildered-looking boy through a throng of onlookers, family supporters and 100-odd reporters and photographers. Holding Sean was his step-father, Joao Paulo Lins e Silva, who with his maternal grandmother, Silvana Bianchi, had led the ultimately doomed legal efforts to keep him in Brazil.

"They're hurting my son," Mr Goldman was heard to yell from inside the compound. Even once they had made it inside, Sean looked on as a shouting match reportedly broke out with Congressman Smith calling the lead Brazilian lawyer Sergio Tostes a "kidnapper".

Finally, upstairs in the consulate, Sean, with the grandmother still at his side, was reintroduced to the father from whom he had been separated for more than half of his life. "When David came into the room, Sean was speechless," Silvana Bianchi said later. "I said to Sean that David will take care of you forever and make the best of it."

Although Mr Goldman told NBC News that he would welcome supervised visits by the grandmother in New Jersey, the family in Brazil complained that no formal agreement was drawn up.

The Goldman case had become a serious irritation in the diplomatic relationship of the two countries. Mr Obama raised it during a meeting in September with his Brazilian counterpart, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Mrs Clinton had also spoken out in support of Mr Goldman and the US Congress had held back from initiating a new trade agreement.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'