David Goldman remembers driving his then wife and 4-year-old son, Sean, to the airport for a what she said would be a vacation in Brazil. It was five years before he saw him again.
The story of how hard it was for David to get authorities to force his former partner to allow him to reunite with Sean was the inspiration for the Sean and David Goldman Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act, signed into law five years ago today.
Father and son were on hand Thursday to mark the milestone at a press conference in the office of Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey, an early champion who introduced the legislation giving families tools to fight their cases internationally, allowing the United States to impose sanctions on countries with a proven pattern of non-compliance.
They retold their story — a first for Sean, now 19 — making the case for how important the law is and how it needs to rigorously enforced.
Three days after that trip to the airport, on Father’s Day, David found out what was really happening.
“I received a phone call from my then wife that our love affair was over,” he recalled. “And she decided to remain in Brazil with Sean and if I ever wanted to see him again I couldn’t go to the law to say there was a kidnapping or go to the judge or do anything type of legal proceeding against her except fly to Brazil, sign 10 pages of legal documents, essentially meeting all demands and giving 100 percent of my rights as his father away. Otherwise I would never see him again.”
Sean talked about the impact of the separation on him.
“When a child is brought over to another country and they’re very young, the other parent is going to be telling the child a lot of bad things about the parent they’re not in contact with that’s going to skew their perception,” he said.
David said he sought help every way possible to finally get a Brazilian court order to return Sean in 2009 — with an attorney in Brazil, from the government, Congress, the media and with rallies.
“I took this picture just a couple of hours after they were reunited,” Smith said, displaying a photo of the event.
“It became clear to me that little or nothing was ever done by the United States government,” said the Republican, who represents New Jersey’s 4th Congressional District, of what motivated him to seek enactment of the law.
According to the Department of State, there has been a continuing decrease in the number of such abductions, from 1,512 in 2008 to 698 in 2018. But more remains to be done. The problem is the executive branch has to recommend the use of sanctions if a country is not complying with the law — and that has not happened yet with countries like India.
Ravi Parmar has been seeking the return of his New Jersey-born son for seven years, when his mother took him at the age of 3. “India doesn’t even recognize that a parent can abduct a child,” he said.
“I’ve met with Narendra Modi, the prime minister of India, face to face,” Smith said. “Brought a mother from Cranbury whose two children were abducted.”
Smith said that India should be more compliant, saying sanctions can be imposed under the Goldman Act “to show we’re not kidding.”
Gov. Phil Murphy is scheduled to go to India next month. The people who gathered with Smith on Thursday are hoping he will address child-abduction cases.
Meanwhile, Sean Goldman spends time speaking with other children who have been in similar situations to help them through the process.