MOUNT LAUREL, N.J. – A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that a 9-year-old boy living in Brazil should be returned to his American father, but the case will likely be appealed again, officials said. U.S Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton praised the decision.
A panel of three Brazilian judges ruled the boy must be handed over to his father, David Goldman, at the U.S. Consulate in Rio de Janeiro within 48 hours, said Ricardo Zamariola, Goldman's attorney.
"He's really happy but he is worried about any eventual future decision that could block the boy being handed over to him," said Zamariola, who added that he didn't expect a final resolution until at least the first half of next year.
Clinton thanked Brazil's government for assistance and said she was encouraged by the court's decision "that Sean Goldman, a young American boy wrongfully retained in Brazil for more than five years, should be reunited with his father David in New Jersey."
In a statement, she also said: "It is my hope that this long legal process is now complete and that the Goldman family will be reunited quickly. They will be in my thoughts and prayers today and throughout this holiday season."
Goldman's lengthy court battle to get custody of his son, Sean, has gained international attention as President Barack Obama, the U.S. Congress and Clinton have all weighed in, seeking the child's return.
The decision by the federal appeals court in Rio de Janeiro upheld a Brazilian federal judge's earlier ruling.
But Zamariola said he was certain lawyers for Joao Paulo Lins e Silva, the Brazilian stepfather with whom Sean is living, would appeal, perhaps to the Supreme Court.
Lins e Silva's attorney, Sergio Tostes, declined to comment.
Goldman was not present for the ruling Wednesday and didn't return a request for comment made to his U.S.-based attorney, Patricia Apy. Zamariola said he spoke with Goldman and that he was expected to arrive in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday morning.
The case began in 2004, when Goldman's wife, Bruna Bianchi, took then-4-year-old Sean to her native Brazil. Goldman says it was to be a two-week vacation.
But she stayed and so did the boy. She eventually was divorced there and remarried. Last year, she died giving birth to a daughter.
Goldman, who lives in Tinton Falls, New Jersey, had already been seeking his son's return under an international treaty that covers cross-border child abductions.
Bianchi's death generated more interest in the case, which has been discussed this year by top-level diplomats in Washington and the Brazilian capital, Brasilia. It also has been the subject of congressional hearings in the U.S. and has prompted protests in both countries.
Previous rulings favorable to Goldman have been scuttled by other Brazilian courts.
But U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, who has traveled to Brazil with Goldman and held congressional hearings on the issue, said he was optimistic Sean would soon be in the U.S.
"It's outstanding news," the New Jersey congressman said of Wednesday's ruling. "Even if there is an appeal, the order is to deliver Sean to the Embassy Friday."
Meanwhile, Sean's Brazilian maternal grandmother has said that Sean wants to stay in Rio. She has filed a petition with the Supreme Court asking that the boy's statements be taken into consideration. A similar request from the Brazilian family was denied earlier this year. The child, who has dual citizenship, has been shielded from speaking directly to the news media.
Both Goldman, a former model who now has a fishing charter business, and members of Bianchi's family, including her second husband, have appeared on television talk shows to make their case.
Goldman and his son reunited in February for the first time since the child was taken to Brazil. They have not seen each other since June.