Brazil's Supreme Court on Wednesday rebuffed a bid by a political party to stop a 9-year-old boy from being taken to the United States to live with his father. But the boy's return to the U.S. is likely to be delayed by further legal appeals.
In a 10-0 decision, the Supreme Court refused to consider a request by Brazil's Progressive Party that argued it would be wrong to take Sean Goldman from his stepfather's custody in Brazil after five years in the South American nation.
The high court ruled that a federal court should decide whether the boy will return to the U.S. or remain with his stepfamily in Brazil.
The boy's Brazilian mother remarried and died after bearing a daughter last year. Sean's stepfather wants the boy to remain with his sister and Brazilian family.
What began as a family dispute has become an international controversy.
President Barack Obama discussed the custody case with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Washington, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton lobbied for the boy's return to live with father David Goldman, of New Jersey.
And last week U.S. Congressman Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican, introduced a bill that would temporarily remove Brazil from a duty-free trade program. He says Brazil received $2.75 billion in U.S. trade benefits last year.
Father pleased with decision
But David Goldman's attorney said Wednesday that a federal court in Rio de Janeiro, which previously ruled the boy be returned to the U.S., still must consider another appeal from the boy's stepfamily.
Lawyer Ricardo Zamariola said: "Sean will not be able to leave immediately because a federal court of appeals in Rio de Janeiro has ordered that the boy remain in Brazil until it rules on an appeal filed by Sean's stepfamily."
Nevertheless, David Goldman said he was pleased with the Supreme Court decision.
"I hope it will diminish the time away from my son."
Goldman said that the hearing also made public another issue that he said he had been legally barred from discussion previously: "The psychological damage that has been inflicted on my son is finally out in the open," he said. "There's no words to describe the anxiety and the pain that I feel from that. Fortunately, it's been exposed."
Goldman's lawyer told the judges about reports by three court-appointed psychologists who found Sean was suffering.
'Up to the judge'
At the hearing, Sergio Tostes, the Brazilian family's attorney, said that when asked in which country he preferred to live, Sean told a family-appointed psychologist: "it makes no difference to me. It's up to the judge.
A few weeks ago, Tostes said Sean told the psychologist that he wanted to stay in Brazil with his sister and friends at his current school.
Repeated calls to Tostes for further comment went unanswered.
Courts in Brazil have been weighing David Goldman's rights under the Hague Convention on international child abductions against Brazilian law.
At the Supreme Court on Wednesday, the government's solicitor general, Jose Antonio Dias Toffoli, told justices that if Brazil does not respect the convention it "runs the risk of having its requests for the return of Brazilian children facing similar situations abroad denied."
The convention requires that participating countries return abducted or wrongfully retained children to the country of their "habitual residence."
In 2004, Sean's mother, Bruna Bianchi, took him for a two-week vacation to her native Brazil and never returned. She divorced David Goldman in Brazil and married Rio de Janeiro lawyer Joao Paulo Lins e Silva.
She died last year of complications from the birth of another child, and a Rio de Janeiro state court granted Lins e Silva temporary custody of Sean.
Last week, a lower court ruling that Sean Goldman be returned to the U.S. was suspended by a supreme court justice based on a petition filed by the conservative Progressive Party, which argued that the boy has been living in the country for five years and would be stripped of his current family environment of "happiness, love and comprehension."