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A federal appeals court in Rio de Janeiro ruled 3-0 today that nine-year-old Sean Goldman, the Brazilian-American boy at the center of a drawn-out international custody dispute that has involved the highest levels of the Brazilian and American governments, should be returned to his father in New Jersey by Friday.
But, but, but.
Anyone following the case, including most certainly the dad, David Goldman, has been down this road before. He has won multiple court rulings, and his son still lives with his maternal grandparents, step-dad and half-sister in Rio. The Brazilian courts are notoriously slow, and the boy's stepfather's family is full of attorneys who are undoubtedly leaving no stone of appeal unturned.
There is plenty of coverage of the case you can read elsewhere — and you can read my take on media coverage of the case from a while back right here — but watch out for the more overly confident reports in the American press. "David Goldman will finally regain custody of his son Sean," said Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC this afternoon. (And how 'bout those foregone-conclusion headlines?) You can be sure that this one isn't over; CNN got this one just right. The family has already appealed to the Brazilian supreme court, arguing that the boy himself has not been heard from.
It is pretty easy to figure out why they want that. They want what any nine-year-old boy that has lived for five years with his maternal family in Rio would say, especially assuming he has been coached: He wants to stay. Which brings up the other big element utterly missing from the coverage — if Sean ends up back in the United States, it is going to be a long, tough road for father and son to get used to living together again. Prior proposals have included having the stepfather and maternal family, including his grandmother, come with him for the first period. That sounds absolutely appropriate, and absolutely awkward. Surely the Goldman family knows that even in the best case scenario, there is a long road ahead. But those American reporters covering the case from New Jersey and New York need to get ready for a much more complex story than they are expecting.
That is, if Sean ends up coming to the United States at all.