TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — The Brazilian grandmother of a New Jersey boy who was the center of an international custody battle should get a chance to fight in court for visitation with him, a state appellate court has ruled.
The court said in a decision made public Wednesday that Silvana Bianchi Ribeiro should get a chance to prove terminating her relationship with the boy, 12-year-old Sean Goldman, would harm him. But the court wouldn't act on her requests for interim visitation with Sean, who now lives with his father in Tinton Falls, and for a court-appointed attorney to represent him.
The decision overturns a lower court's ruling, in which the grandmother also was assessed more than $89,000 in legal fees. But those fees also were overturned in the appellate court ruling, which was first reported by Newark's The Star-Ledger newspaper.
The three-judge appellate panel said the lower-court judge should have considered whether continued visitation with Ribeiro would have been in Sean's best interests. The panel also urged Sean's grandmother and his father, David Goldman, to settle their dispute outside court.
Sean, who was born in the United States, was 4 years old when his Brazilian mother, Bruna Bianchi, took him to Brazil for what was supposed to be a vacation. However, she announced she was staying there with Sean and later divorced David Goldman and remarried.
David Goldman then spent years in American and Brazilian courts before he finally took Sean home in December 2009.
Bianchi died in 2008 in childbirth, but Sean's Brazilian stepfather and grandmother continued to fight for custody in Brazil.
David Goldman has previously refused visitation for Ribeiro unless she agrees to several conditions, including ending all litigation in Brazil seeking Sean's return, a stance that was criticized by the appellate panel, which called it "unduly onerous."
David Goldman's lawyer, Patricia Apy, said Wednesday night that she had received the decision but had not had a chance to speak with him to discuss whether they will appeal it.
Lawyers for the grandmother could not be reached by telephone for comment on Wednesday.