Questions remain in custody dispute |

Questions remain in custody dispute

Jill Beathard
The Aspen Times

Editor’s note: Because the following story did not run in its entirety in Friday’s edition, we are running it in its complete form today.

A hearing over whom two children involved in an international custody dispute should live with will continue Monday after a full day of testimony in Garfield County District Court on Thursday.

Victoria and Sophia Burns returned to their father’s home in Snowmass Village last month, five years after their mother, Ana Alianelli, took them despite a court order naming their father, Dennis Burns, their primary residential parent. On Thursday, Judge Denise Lynch considered a motion filed by Alianelli’s counsel to enforce an agreement the parents signed during litigation in Argentina that stated the girls would live with their mother once back in the United States.

The agreement also stated that Burns would provide accommodations for Alianelli and his daughters, $2,000 a month in financial assistance and health insurance. Court documents showed that those terms were all put forth by Burns, but on Thursday, he said his Argentine lawyers were responsible for offering them and advised him that the process would continue for years if he didn’t sign the agreement.

“They said I had to sign it to have any chance of getting (Victoria and Sophia) out of Argentina,” Burns said during his testimony.

Alianelli also said she resisted signing the agreement but did so because she believed the Argentine courts would order her daughters to return to the U.S. either way.

Her counsel also presented an evaluation of the girls conducted by psychologist Lorraine Ehlers-Flint, who testified to her observations later in the day. Ehlers-Flint discussed the girls’ identification with Argentine culture, their close relationships with their immediate and extended family there and their appearance when she interviewed them back in the U.S., which she described as “unkempt” and “not clean.”

Ehlers-Flint’s recommendation was that the girls live with their mother because they “need the secure base of attachment with the mother while they re-establish their relationship with the father.”

Burns’ counsel was unable to finish its cross-examination of Ehlers-Flint on Thursday, but psychologist Rebecca Bailey testified to a consult she performed on Ehlers-Flint’s observations and recommendations she made for the parents moving forward. She had recommended the girls take an extended trip with Burns to New Jersey to get to know his extended family members while he also prepared to move them to a larger residence in the valley, during which time Bailey thought that Alianelli would be getting affairs in order in Argentina.

Alianelli, however, went to New York City while they went to New Jersey, which they did for a week based on an order by the court. While Burns said he offered to set up visitations, Alianelli said Bailey had told her not to see them while they were in New Jersey.

Bailey also favored supervised visitation. Burns desires to continue the supervised-visitation stipulation, saying he is concerned that his ex-wife will manipulate the children and possibly take them again, adding that he has researched more affordable options, as paying a supervisor is costly.

Upon their return to the U.S., Victoria needed extensive oral surgery after a local dentist found her to have four cavities and need four crowns, a spacer and two root extractions, Burns said. Both children have been to the doctor, and Burns is still awaiting immunization and medical records from their mother, although there was no record of him requesting those.

During her testimony, Alianelli’s counsel brought forth documentation of correspondence among her, Burns, his family and relatives on both sides discussing how they could communicate with Victoria and Sophia while they were living in Argentina. Alianelli didn’t require Burns to have a supervisor during visits, although he often brought a friend or a representative of the U.S. Embassy with him, she said.

The hearing is expected to conclude Monday.


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