Under international law, it appears straightforward that a 9-year-old boy who has lived most of his life in Brazil should be returned to his father in New Jersey.
But after another week of legal tussles, the future remains unclear for the boy, his family in Rio de Janeiro, and his father, who has been fighting for years to get back his son, who has told psychologists he wants to stay in Brazil.
David Goldman of Tinton Falls, Monmouth County, flew to Brazil on Monday after a federal court there said his son would be handed over to him yesterday at a U.S. consulate. But late Tuesday, Brazil's supreme court agreed to hear a challenge to the ruling, and Goldman planned to return home alone.
The case, tangled up with diplomacy and Brazilian politics, demonstrates the tension between the Hague Convention on international child abduction and the notion that courts should do what's best for children in custody cases.
The dispute began in 2004, when Bruna Goldman took son Sean, then 4, to her native Brazil. She told her husband she would be back in two weeks, but she stayed in Brazil and remarried there.
David Goldman said that it was an abduction and that he should get custody of the boy.
The case drew international attention last year when Bruna Goldman died while giving birth. The U.S. Congress, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and President Obama have all lobbied Brazil to return the boy.
Sean has been living with his stepfather, lawyer Joao Paulo Lins e Silva.
Sergio Tostes, a lawyer for the Brazilian family, said the judge who ruled earlier in the week "did not consider the fact that the boy repeatedly told the psychologists that he wanted to remain in Brazil."
Justice Marco Aurelio, who suspended Sean's return, said in a statement, "I think five years were enough for roots to have been formed" by Sean in Brazil.
Mitch Spero, a psychologist in Florida who has worked with child-custody cases, said that although laws and treaties should be followed, it was also important to consider what's best for the child.
Without knowing the specifics of the Goldman case, he said a hasty return to the United States might not be the best thing.
"Since his mother passed away, losing contact with the stepfather would be another loss for the child," Spero said.
The best approach, he said, would be to have a transition of custody. That's what the Brazilian court decision earlier in the week sought: to have Sean spend part of his time with his maternal grandparents in New Jersey before living full time with his father.
The court's 10 other justices are expected to analyze Aurelio's decision by Wednesday. If they agree with him, they will begin the long process of deciding who has custody.