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NJ Judge Slaps Down Grandparent's Claim for Visitation in Sean Goldman Case
"It's not over till it's over." Thus spake Yogi Berra. And this one's not over (New Jersey Star-Ledger, 2/28/11). We thought it was, but it's not. In fact, it just goes on and on. I've reported on the abduction to Brazil by his mother of Sean Goldman. That happened back in 2004 when the mother, Bruna Bianchi, told his father David Goldman that she was taking Sean, then aged five, on a vacation to Brazil to see her parents. She and David were married, living together and David thought their relationship was fine. Little did he know. Bianchi never returned. She kept Sean in Brazil, divorced David, remarried and died from complications of childbirth. From there, her parents Raimundo and Silvana Ribeiro, Sean's grandparents continued the legal fight she'd begun to forever keep David Goldman out of his son's life. David, for his part, had filed an action under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction to which both the U.S. and Brazil are signatories. The case drew out for five years, with court after court ruling in David's favor and decision after decision being appealed by first Bianchi and then the grandparents. The U.S. State Department stepped in; Congressmen traveled to Brazil to meet with governmental officials there. Finally, all appeals were exhausted and David flew home from Brazil with his son. Since then, Sean has lived with his father in New Jersey, but, as Yogi could tell us, it's still not over. That's because Sean's Brazilian grandparents have filed suit in New Jersey court seeking visitation. These are the same people who were happy to do everything in their considerable power to deny their grandson all contact with his father. What's Portuguese for "chutzpah?" They also have continuing litigation in Brazil. What that consists of I can only guess at and the same can be said for what this is all costing David Goldman. The whole thing has been a two-continent donnybrook involving numerous courts, lawyers, motions, actions, appeals, etc. I can't imagine what Goldman's legal bills are. But they're going to continue to increase. His adversaries, the Ribeiros, are apparently very well-heeled and well-connected in Brazil, so he's probably overmatched financially. Still, the New Jersey judge didn't mince words in his 44-page opinion denying the grandparents all contact with Sean. Among other things, he said that they'd tried to undermine Goldman's relationship with his son. If that seems to understate the matter, Judge Michael Guadagno called their doing so "contemptible." In case they didn't get the message, he went on to say that "It is difficult to conceive of a more dramatic example of emotional abuse of a young child." Having kidnapped a little boy and kept him from his father for years, Goldman's wife, as I said earlier, died. During all that time, David was bending heaven and earth to get his son back, but that didn't prevent Bianchi's relatives from claiming in court that he'd "abandoned" Sean. Judge Guadagno called that little bit of inventive lawyering "beyond all possible bounds of decency." Stated another way, the child's Brazilian family was doing anything it could, regardless of how clearly false, to prolong judicial proceedings for one purpose only - to deny David and Sean to each other. Just in case anyone anywhere should mistake their intentions, Goldman recently entered into negotiations with them to allow them to see Sean. His sole condition? That they dismiss all litigation still pending in Brazilian courts. They refused. What does that tell you about how much they want to see their grandson and how much they want to continue to torment David Goldman? Now, they're weeping crocodile tears. Their American attorney Jonathan Wolfe complained that "For grandparents who have done nothing but love and care for their grandchild, it is incredibly hurtful and unfair." Someone should acquaint the Ribeiros with the fact that kidnapping a child in order to deprive it of one of its parents is child abuse. Mental health professionals have registered that opinion with the United Nations and I know of no one who disputes it. They and Bianchi pursued a five-year course of child abuse that they knew at the time to be illegal. They intentionally prolonged legal proceedings just to keep the boy separate from his father. That's what they have the gall to call "nothing but love and care." There are few people more insistent than I am about the need of children for their extended families. It's one of the remarkably bad aspects of divorce and custody law in this country that it tends to deny children their fathers, but also all their fathers' relatives. So I don't lightly applaud a judge who says 'no' to grandparents who seek contact with a grandchild. But this is no ordinary case and these are no ordinary grandparents. The Ribeiros have no one but themselves to blame for their lack of contact with Sean. Let's be clear; at any time during the five years he was in Brazil, they or their daughter could have returned him to David and negotiated reasonable visitation. That would have been the smart thing to have done. More importantly, it would have been the kind and loving thing to have done. It would have been the thing that honored the clear terms of the Hague Convention. It would have been the thing that disrupted Sean's life the least. Tellingly, it is the thing they refused to do. They refused to do it every single day Sean lived in Brazil. In so doing, they jettisoned all moral authority they ever may have had to contact with the boy. Intentional, prolonged child abuse puts them in a poor position to demand visitation. It gives them little claim on our sympathies. That's what Judge Guadagno said. Amazingly, they still don't seem to get it, which is why this one still isn't over.