In what is probably every divorced parent's worst nightmare, a Colorado father has been waiting for over three years to have his abducted children returned to the United States.
Dennis Burns' two daughters were kidnapped by their mother to Argentina after a judge denied her request to relocate to the country with their children, and now there is no immediate end to their custody battle in sight and the Supreme Court of Argentina has even been asked to weigh in.
In 2009, Burns and his ex-wife Ana Alianelli initially agreed to keep their divorce "amicable" for the sake of their two daughters when they split up after five years of marriage. But Alianelli soon claimed Burns had abused her and requested to take their children with her to Buenos Aires, Argentina.
A judge later ruled that Alianelli's claims of abuse were unfounded and ordered that Burns be the primary residential parent. In that ruling, the judge ordered the girls -- Victoria and Sophia, who were ages 3 and 1 at the time -- to remain with Burns in the United States.
"I felt a sense of relief that was just beautiful," Burns told CNN of the decision. "And I was like, 'I'm going to be able to spend time with my daughters, finally, and live with them and be able to teach them things, and show them things, and live here with them in Colorado."
But three weeks later, Alianelli defied the order and took the girls to Argentina.
The U.S. State Department says they receive about 1,200 new cases similar to Burns' each year.
According to Burns' Facebook page "Return Burns Children Fund," Burns has already contacted the FBI, the U.S. Attorney General's Office, the U.S. State Department and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Even though the judge signed an order for the immediate return of the Burns children to the United States, the U.S. State Department has told Burns it could take 18 months to years to get his daughters back.
From the U.S. Department of Justice's website:
Under federal law, prosecutors may investigate and prosecute the parent who kidnapped the child. However, prosecutors generally have no control over the custodial decisions affecting the kidnapped child or if foreign authorities will order the return of the child.
The return of kidnapped children is often settled through negotiation. The U.S. Department of State handles the coordination of efforts with foreign officials and law enforcement agencies to effectuate the return of children to the United States. In some circumstances, the return may be governed by the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Parental Child Abduction (1980).
The Hague Convention only applies if both of the countries involved in the child abduction case are signatories to the Convention -- the U.S. and Argentina are -- but there have been significant delays to the proceedings. While an appellate court in Buenos Aires ruled in favor of Burns, Alianelli appealed it and the case is now headed to Argentina's Supreme Court.
A study on parents who abduct their children from the UK by the National Parents Organization found that an astounding 70 percent of the abductions are committed by mothers.
"It's such an isolated feeling. There's nothing to soothe the pain and the hole in my heart," he told The Aspen Times. "I'm in unchartered waters here. I've always had a pretty blessed life."
Burns has been able to see his daughters since, but he's had to travel to Argentina to do so and last time the visit was cut short by Alianelli and her lawyer.
Burns has also enlisted the help of another dad, David Goldman, who went through a similar ordeal in 2004 when his son was kidnapped by his Brazilian-born mother. He ended up spending upwards of $700,000 to get his then 8-year-old son Sean back.
In Burns' case, his home has already been foreclosed and he claims on his website that he was forced to declare bankruptcy after accruing so many legal fees. He is now asking the public for donations to help him secure his daughters' return.
The financial aspect is something that I hate to face and realize at times, because it almost seems secondary to the concept that the girls are the most important focal point. But it simply cannot be ignored that unfortunately, this international incident is extremely costly. I personally know other left behind parents who have given up on trying to have their children returned after being kidnapped. Each time it has been financial constraints which have left these parents facing the unthinkable. I have cried many tears speaking with these parents and have a paralyzing fear that this quest for justice in the name of the best interests of my daughters can end due to lack of financial ability.
To find out how you can help, visit ReturnBurnsChildren.org.