Brazilian Custody Dispute Over New Jersey Boy Captures Washington Spotlight

Sean Goldman, an 8-year-old boy born in New Jersey but taken to Brazil by his mother nearly five years ago, has made his way rapidly to the forefront of President Obama's diplomatic agenda.

Though Sean's case is just one of hundreds of international custody disputes eyed by the United States government, over the past several weeks, David Goldman's battle to bring his son home to New Jersey has grabbed the attention of Congress and the White House.

Sean's mother took him on vacation to Brazil in June 2004, but instead of returning to New Jersey, she divorced David Goldman and remarried in Brazil. She died last year, but Sean's stepfather continues to raise him in South America and claims custody rights. 

Efforts to bring him back gained momentum Wednesday when the House of Representatives passed a resolution calling on Brazil "as a matter of extreme urgency" to return Sean to the United States, and more progress could be made Saturday during a meeting between Obama and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

"This is so extraordinary, the amount of attention -- the amount of public discourse is unprecedented," David Goldman's attorney, Patricia Apy, told FOXNews.com.

The attention has led some to compare the case to the 2000 custody dispute in Florida over the Cuban boy Elian Gonzalez. Asked if the interest in Sean Goldman was rising to that level, Apy said, "It already has." 

Click here for photos of Sean and David Goldman.

Though David Goldman has been seeking Sean's return almost since the day his mother took him to Brazil, the case recently got a shot of public attention when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raised the issue in a meeting with Brazil's foreign minister. 

"I did raise it at the highest levels of the Brazilian government. I've been working with several members of Congress. We are hoping that this case gets resolved," Clinton told NBC in early March, comparing the dispute to the Gonzalez case. "There is no reason why David Goldman should not get his child back."

The U.S. is putting pressure on Brazil in the custody case during the the run-up to the Summit of the Americas next month -- a meeting of North, Central and South American nations. 

Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon would not say Friday whether Obama would raise the case at his Saturday meeting with Brazil's president, but "obviously he's aware of the issue. He understands it's important," he said.

Shannon said Clinton spoke Thursday night with David Goldman, who is in Brazil to visit his son. 

"This is an issue of great importance to us," Shannon said, noting that the administration wants Sean returned "as quickly as possible." 

A group called Bring Sean Home is holding a rally Saturday afternoon outside the White House, and a number of lawmakers have taken Goldman's side. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and other senators are backing a complement version of the House resolution that passed Wednesday. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., was the lead sponsor of the House version and traveled with Goldman to Brazil in February. 

"It is bringing a tremendous amount of spotlight, scrutiny and really pressure to resolve not just Sean's case but other cases as well," Smith said of the resolution. "There's been an unlawful separation, and kidnapping is a serious crime."

Smith, who met with Brazilian officials while in the country, told FOXNews.com he's cautiously optimistic the case is reaching a turning point.

"Really for just four years, the poor guy got no help and the case just lingered in the Brazilian government. ... It really became a powerful movement, actually," said Mark DeAngelis, a co-founder of Bring Sean Home who met David Goldman on a fishing trip just a few days after his son was taken.

In calling for Sean's return, the family has cited rights under the Hague Convention on child abduction. The New Jersey courts determined shortly after the boy was taken that he was wrongfully removed and ordered him to be returned to the U.S. 

But the matter has languished in Brazil's courts for years. After the mother died, Apy said the family thought the case would be resolved in their favor. But then they learned the stepfather had petitioned the Brazilian courts for custody rights and tried to replace Goldman's name on the child's birth certificate with his. 

The case now rests in Brazilian federal court, which supporters see as a positive sign since they allege the local courts were not complying with international law. Apy said the central Brazilian government has recently shown a willingness to cooperate with the U.S., and she's hopeful Goldman will be returned. 

"There should be no other answer," she said. "Everything else is nonsensical."