Photo: David Goldman and 9-year-old son Sean board a plane in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for America, Dec. 24, 2009.
The two arrived back in the U.S. on Christmas Eve and have been staying with relatives in Orlando, Fla.
The saga goes back to 2004, when Goldman's wife, Bruna Bianchi, took then-4-year-old Sean to her native Brazil on vacation and never came back.
Photo: David Goldman and Sean.
Goldman was already seeking his son's return under an international treaty that covers cross-border child abductions when his former wife died last year while giving birth to a daughter with her new Brazilian husband.
Her 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.
Photo: Sean Goldman as a young boy with his father, David Goldman.
In an interview Monday on NBC's "Today" show, Goldman said the boy is happy to be with him but still needs time to adjust.
NBC paid for Goldman's chartered plane from Brazil to the U.S., according to the Associated Press.
Photo: Sean Goldman at age 8.
Now that they are back together in America, Goldman has a parenting struggle ahead: How does a single dad reconnect with a 9-year-old son whose mother has recently died and who has been transplanted to a country he hasn't seen since he was a preschooler?
"I kind of feel terrible for him," said Dr. Alan Hilfer, referring to Goldman's son, Sean. Hilfer, the director of psychology at Maimonides Medical Center in New York City, has been following media reports about the case.
"He's going to have a pretty hard time, even though I'm sure his dad will do the best he can."
Goldman, who operates charter fishing boats, had been arguing for years that Sean belonged to him under an international treaty that sets procedures for dealing with child abductions.
His son's stepfather, part of a family of well-connected lawyers in Rio de Janeiro, continued to oppose the boy's return until Dec 23. One of the stepfather's main arguments was that Sean had grown roots in Brazil and would be better off there.
Judges ultimately found it was a case about abduction, not custody, and returned the boy to Goldman.
People involved in the case say Sean still has a tough adjustment ahead.
Other parents who've been reunited with children after long lapses said the change can be heart-wrenching, even when there was regular contact - something Goldman has not had.
Goldman, who dreams of taking his son fishing, was denied access to the boy until February of this year and has seen him for no more than several hours at a time on a handful of occasions since then, and never alone.
Jeanette Vega of New York City was separated from her son, Remi, from 2000 to 2003. After allegations that she abused him when he was 2, he lived with relatives, then in foster care. Vega saw her son regularly while they were apart and he remained in the same city.
But she said it was still a difficult transition when he came back to her. He was accustomed to the rules of his foster home, for one. And he was skittish. "He was always having fears that someone would come and get him," she said.
Vega said it took months just to get him to think of her home as his home.
U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican who has traveled to Brazil several times with Goldman, said the father and son bonded easily when they were together even though he says Sean's family in Brazil disparaged Goldman and took steps to make the transition more stressful — including having Sean walk through a crush of photographers on his way to their reunion rather than slipping him in through a secure garage.
A string of key federal court rulings this month, including one from the chief justice of Brazil's Supreme Court, cleared the way for a permanent father-son reunion.
Hilfer said Goldman should first spend time alone with Sean, and gradually introduce him to his new American routine, waiting a few months to send him to school.
"He's a kid who's had many losses. There was the loss of his father, the loss of his mother," Hilfer said. "Now there's the loss of his extended family in Brazil."
Hilfer said it's unlikely Sean will remember much of the people or places he knew as a younger boy in New Jersey. A child that age should adapt, Hilfer said, but the first year or two will be lonely.
Hilfer said the transition will be eased if Sean maintains contact with his maternal grandparents from Brazil. Goldman says he would allow such contact, but his New Jersey-based lawyer, Patricia Apy, said guidelines still have to be worked out.
Apy said the real problem is that the child-abduction treaty was not enforced for 5 1/2 years, long enough to make a return to Goldman harder on the boy.
"There's nothing in the treaties to deal with this issue because the treaties aren't supposed to take that long," Apy said.
MORE ON CRIMESIDER
December 24, 2009 - David Goldman Reunited with Son, Sean Goldman, After Brazilian Custody Nightmare
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December 18, 2009 - David Goldman's Battle to Reclaim Son Blocked by Brazilian Supreme Court
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June 30, 2009 - Boy Must Stay in Brazil For Now, Judge Rules
June 23, 2009 - CBS Exclusive: Sean Goldman's Brazilian Family Tells Their Side
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June 2, 2009 - Father Battles For Son And Wins