Grandparent Visitation Rights New Issue in Sean Goldman Case

Sean Goldman, the little boy brought back from Brazil after a hard-won child custody battle by his father David Goldman in 2009, is back in the news, and at the center of a new custody fight, this time involving his Brazilian grandmother.

According to a new ruling from a state appeals court, Sean’s grandmother should have the chance to argue in court for visitation rights with her grandson, overturning a lower court’s previous decision to deny any custody claims. As NECN reports, the court said in a decision made public this week that Silvana Bianchi Ribeiro, the 12-year old boy’s maternal grandmother, is allowed to pursue her claim that terminating her relationship with her grandson would harm him. The grandmother, who still lives in Brazil, wants a formal visitation plan put in place.

The three-judge appellate panel said the lower-court judge did not fully consider whether visitation with his grandmother is in Sean’s best interest. The panel also urged Sean’s grandmother and his father to settle through mediation. However, the court did not grant Ribeiro’s request for interim visitation with Sean, who now lives with his father in Tinton Falls.

The case first reached the New Jersey courts after David Goldman refused visitation for Ribeiro unless she agreed to end all litigation in Brazil seeking Sean’s return. The appellate panel criticized Goldman’s demand as “unduly onerous.”

Does Ribeiro have a strong claim for visitation? If you recall the headline-making custody case, Sean Goldman was brought to Brazil by his mother, who remarried and then died in childbirth with her second child. Sean was raised by his Brazilian grandparents until his father was able to regain custody, with the help of New Jersey lawmakers and American diplomats in Brazil willing to intervene on his behalf.

According to family law statute N.J.S.A. 9:2-7.1, grandparents residing in the state have the right to seek an order for visitation rights with their grandchildren. However, in filing an application with the court to establish this visitation, the burden falls upon the grandparent to prove that visitation is in the best interests of the child. The statute lists eight factors for the court to consider in reaching its decision:

1. The relationship between the child and the applicant;
2. The relationship between each of the child’s parents or the person with whom the child is residing and the applicant;
3. The time which has elapsed since the child last had contact with the applicant;
4. The effect that such visitation will have on the relationship between the child and the child’s parents or the person with whom the child is residing;
5. If the parents are divorced or separated, the time sharing arrangement which exists between the parents with regard to the child;
6. The good faith of the applicant in filing the application;
7. Any history of physical, emotional or sexual abuse or neglect by the applicant; and
8. Any other factor relevant to the best interests of the child.

And there’s one last issue the courts must take into consideration. In 2003, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided the case of Moriarty v. Bradt, 177 N.J. 84 (2003). In addition to the above, the court now holds that a grandparent must prove that denial of visitation with their grandchild is detrimental to the child.