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‘This is not going away’: Red Bank lawyer says US must use Goldman Act to return kids

The international child abduction ordeal of Tinton Falls’ David and Sean Goldman sparked a law to help bring such kids home. It’s not being enforced.

Jerry Carino

Asbury Park Press

Twelve years after she helped bring abducted Tinton Falls child Sean Goldman home to his father David — a much-publicized saga that involved five years of legal wrangling with Brazil — Red Bank attorney Patricia Apy is still asked about the case all the time.

The Goldmans are doing well, but as she testified at a Congressional hearing last week, the law their ordeal spawned could be doing better.

Apy asserted that the Sean and David Goldman Child Abduction Act, which gives the U.S. State Department authority to pressure nations that harbor abducted kids, is only partially working. It serves as a deterrent, but once a child has been illegally relocated to a foreign country (in most cases by a fleeing parent), the left-behind parent doesn’t get the help the law promises.

The Goldman story:10 years after reunion, Sean Goldman fights for other abducted kids

David Goldman at press conference with Patricia Apy in her Red Bank Law Office

“Every parent has to become a diplomat,” Apy told the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission hearing in Washington, D.C. “These are systemic problems.”

The hearing was chaired by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who was deeply involved in the Goldmans’ 2009 reunion and spearheaded the subsequent legislation. There are at least 12,000 similar cases currently under the State Department’s auspices, Apy said, but sanctions are not being applied as allowed by the Goldman Act.

“The tools are there,” Smith said by phone earlier this week. “It’s just they lack the political will to enforce it. Why do we have to keep saying, ‘Do your job’ to the U.S. Department of State?”

RELATED: Manalapan dad fighting to get abducted son back from India

Patricia Apy Red Bank Attorney

Both Smith and Apy said this has been a problem under the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations.

“They do not like the idea that something that seems like a domestic, individual issue should impact foreign policy,” Apy said by phone. “The point I want to make is for most Americans, this is as real as foreign policy gets.”

‘It’s become laughable’

The Goldmans’ backstory story is well-documented. In 2004 Sean’s mother, Brazil-born Bruna Bianchi, told then-husband David she was taking Sean on a two-week vacation to visit family in her native country.

Upon arriving she called David, informing them their marriage was over and that Sean would not be returning to the United States. After Bianchi died in childbirth in 2008, her family refused to give the boy to his father.

David Goldman with Chris Smith

But David’s relentless pursuit of custody and a combination of diplomatic and media pressure led to Sean’s return home on Christmas Eve of 2009.

The key piece of diplomatic pressure is largely absent from most cases, Apy said, even with countries that have signed a treaty pledging to cooperate on cases of international parent-child abductions.

In 2020 alone, 25 New Jersey children were reported to the State Department as having been abducted to a foreign country.

She added, “The effort that it takes for a (left-behind) parent or in some cases a grandparent to run this gauntlet, and to try to get the attention of their own diplomats, who ostensibly serve them, is what is frustrating.”

Ravi Parmar after new confernence in August 2019

Solution proposed

Apy would like to see the creation of an ambassador-at-large position, as called for in the Goldman Act, to address the issue.

“I do believe having an ambassador-at-large makes a difference because that elevates the discussion from the State Department,” she said. “It’s no longer just an administrative function. It is instead elevated to where if an ambassador meets with their counterpart, they should have the authority of the United States of America to be able to talk about sanctions with reality and authority. That’s the message that really needs to be pressed.”

“This has not gone away,” she said this week. “It boils down to this: Somehow diplomacy is more important than the abduction of a single child, which I think is a huge mistake.”

US congressman Chris Smith and David Goldman

Jerry Carino is community columnist for the Asbury Park Press, focusing on the Jersey Shore’s interesting people, inspiring stories and pressing issues. Contact him at