International custody case nears final order |

International custody case nears final order

Veronica Whitney
El Montañés editor
Dennis Burns, with his daughters Sophia, 7, left, and Victoria, 9, in Snowmass recently.
Provided |

The parents of two children involved in an international custody battle for the past six years were back in court Thursday in Glenwood Springs for a hearing before a judge makes a final decision in their case.

It’s been 17 months since the Burns children — Victoria, 9, and Sophia, 7 — returned to Colorado after spending four years in Argentina with their mother, Ana Alianelli, 41, who took them there in 2010 without the girls’ father’s permission.

Since April 2015, the girls, who were born in Aspen and lived near Glenwood Springs before they were taken to Buenos Aires, have been living with their father, Dennis Burns, 47, in Snowmass. Alianelli now sees the girls about 30 percent of the time, and can have visitations without a chaperone, as was originally ordered by Garfield County District Judge Denise Lynch when they first returned.

Alianelli’s attorneys have filed motions to amend parenting responsibilities and also to relocate Victoria and Sophia to Argentina. However, two experts who testified Thursday recommended against relocating the girls in the near future.

Resa Hayes, the girls’ therapist, told the judge that Victoria and Sophia have made significant progress in the relocation process.

“They have adjusted to their new school very well; they have many friends and meaningful relationships with their teachers,” Hayes said.

When Lynch asked her if the girls are bonded with both parents, Hayes said yes.

Lynch also asked Hayes if the girls would be negatively impacted if they were to relocate to Argentina or New York, where Alianelli’s sister lives.

“Yes, since the kids won’t have access to both parents,” Hayes said.

The Burns children’s departure from Argentina was amid media hype at the airport and a traumatic separation from friends and family members. At one point, Alianelli’s brother could be seen punching Burns in front of the children and the TV cameras.

Dr. Andrew Loizeaux, an evaluator who was appointed by the court at Alianelli’s request in 2015 — she paid for it — agreed with Hayes during testimony at the hearing.

“It is quite remarkable how the kids have adjusted to their new life in Colorado,” said Loizeaux, a psychologist who observed the girls in both parents’ homes and who has spoken to teachers and other people involved in their lives from January to April 2016. “By April, when I wrote the report, they were moving in the right direction to get rooted and integrated to their new life. The kids were talking about birthday parties and school.”

Burns, who is representing himself because he said he can’t afford an attorney, asked Loizeaux if uprooting the children would cause significant damage to them.

“Certainly, another transition could be traumatic for the kids,” Loizeaux said. “My recommendation is that they continue to reside in Aspen and Snowmass; any other recommendation would be difficult for the children.”

Loizeaux also recommended that Burns should have sole decision-making in regards to the children.

Lynch, who presided in the 2010 custody case and at the time named Burns the girls’ primary residential parent, is expected to issue final orders in the case after two more hearings set for Nov. 1 and 2.

After a contentious divorce case, Alianelli took the children to Argentina with a short-term permit that allowed the children to stay abroad for only a few weeks. When the permit expired, and Lynch ordered Alianelli to return, she ignored the judge’s orders.

The girls returned to Colorado after the Argentinean Supreme Court ordered Alianelli to surrender the children. Burns had invoked the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction to get the girls returned, and it took him more than four years to get the Argentine courts to comply.

Burns has complained about how judges in Argentina kept delaying his case. The first judge who dealt with the case in Buenos Aires, Alejandra Velázquez, was suspended last year from her job after an investigation started on irregular adoptions in which she allegedly participated.

Alianelli has complained to the judge and Argentine media that she left because Burns beat her up — allegations he denies — and her kids would have a much better life in Argentina, the latter based on she and Burns losing their home to foreclosure and filing bankruptcy during the 2009 financial crisis.

Colorado criminal records show Burns was arrested in August 2009 in a domestic dispute, but the case was dismissed. Soon after, in October 2009, Burns was arrested for violating a restraining order when he tried to pick up personal belongings from the house he had shared with Alianelli in Aspen Glen. According to him, Alianelli said he could pick up his things but then called police.

During the 2009 custody case, Lynch saw these incidents as isolated and named Burns the primary residential parent after receiving a detailed report of a court-appointed psychologist who had spent time with both parents and the girls.

Burns said Thursday that Victoria and Sophia are doing great and are living a fulfilling life.

“They want to be with both parents,” he said.

Alianelli declined to comment.

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