Parents in international custody dispute await judge’s order in western Colorado
A judge said Monday that she would make a written ruling this week on motions filed in an ongoing custody dispute between a Snowmass Village man and an Argentinian woman.
Victoria and Sophia Burns returned to the United States in April, five years after their mother, Ana Alianelli, took them to her home country of Argentina despite a court order naming their father, Dennis Burns, their primary residential parent. Motions have been filed by both parties since their return, including one by Alianelli’s counsel asking for enforcement of an agreement signed in Argentina that the girls would continue to live with their mother once back in Colorado.
The girls have been living with Burns since their return, and Judge Denise Lynch agreed last month to allow Alianelli supervised visitation with her daughters. She denied a request on Monday to lift the supervision requirement but wanted to ensure the parents would continue arranging visits, the most recent of which was Saturday, and said she would file her order soon.
“This is a top priority for me,” she said.
The agreement in question was signed in a court that did not have the authority or jurisdiction to enforce those terms, said Matthew Pearson, Burns’ attorney, during closing arguments on Monday. The only valid condition was that the girls were to travel with their mother, he added, which they did as far as Houston, where they and Burns were separated from her while Burns said he sought medical treatment for injuries sustained during an altercation with one of Alianelli’s relatives as they departed from Buenos Aires.
However, Tomas Leonard, Alianelli’s attorney, argued that it was a “valid and enforceable contract” and that Burns never intended to adhere to it.
Each of the parents’ attorneys also filed motions asking the court to adopt recommendations made by different psychologists, one focused on the children’s reunification with Burns and one arguing against separation from Alianelli.
“The children have lived under the exclusive care of their mother their entire lives,” Leonard said, adding that they only communicate with friends and relatives from Argentina now during visits with their mother.
“It is not just the mother they have been separated from but … generally, the only life that they know,” he said.
But that would send a message that parents should ignore court orders and “delay as long as possible” until asking a judge to uphold the status quo, Pearson said.
“When Miss Alianelli ignored this court’s order … (it) damaged the relationship with the father,” Pearson said, adding that her actions have “interfered with their emotional attachment with their father for long enough.”
Burns also disputed comments made on Thursday by psychologist Lorraine Ehlers-Flint about the girls’ eating and hygiene habits since their return, saying that they eat mostly organic food, bathe daily and always have clean clothes. Leonard asked Burns if he was testifying that his daughters or the psychologist were lying.
“It’s possible,” that Ehlers-Flint lied, or that she was basing some of those opinions on observations alone, Burns said.
One of the reasons Alianelli has given for abducting her children is that she was afraid of her ex-husband, who was arrested in 2009 on charges of domestic violence. However, the case was dismissed, and Lynch determined the incident to be isolated during custody hearings then, a finding that Pearson quoted during closing arguments on Monday.
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