RIO DE JANEIRO - Brazil's Supreme Court yesterday delayed the return of a 9-year-old boy to his U.S. father only hours after the man arrived from New Jersey in hopes of taking the boy home for Christmas.

The court ruled the child must stay in Brazil while it considers a request that his own testimony be heard in the case, which has dragged on for five years.

The ruling written by Justice Marco Aurelio Mello means the boy will be in Brazil at least until Feb. 1, following the justices' return from a recess, according to a court spokesman.

David Goldman's lawyer Ricardo Zamariola confirmed the ruling means he will be unable to pick up his son Sean in Rio today, as a federal appeals court had ruled on Wednesday.

"At stake is a fully formed life," Mello wrote in his ruling. "At stake is the right to come and go, the right of opinion, expression and human dignity."

Mello later said that the coming ruling will "question the necessity of Sean, the boy, who is almost 10-years-old, to be heard directly by a judge."

Silvana Bianchi, Sean's maternal grandmother, said Sean, who has dual citizenship, has said he wants to remain in Brazil.

"His testimony has never been heard," she said. "As a Brazilian citizen, he deserves it. He is a child of nearly 10 and he knows quite well what he wants."

Shortly before the stay was announced, Goldman stepped off a 12-hour flight from New York into a large scrum of reporters at Rio's international airport.

Facing the crowd of cameras and microphones, he looked blank, uttered a few quiet words and appeared every inch a man exhausted - from a flight, the custody fight and the chance that, one more time, a last-minute appeal would keep him from taking his boy back to New Jersey.

"I hope I can go home with my son," Goldman quietly told reporters. But again, now, he must wait.