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May 21st, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
The Tennessee woman who adopted a Russian boy and then returned him to Russia with a one-way plane ticket has been ordered to pay the American adoption agency $150,000 in damages and the Russian group home in which he now lives $1,000 a month in child support until he turns 18.   He is now nine.  Read about it here (Washington Post, 5/18/12).

Torry Hansen adopted the child back in 2009, but after a few months decided his behavioral problems were too much for her to handle.   So she packed him up and sent him back to Russia.  Authorities at his group home say that, although he has behavioral problems, they’re far from intractable and pretty much what you’d expect from a child who spent most of his early years in an orphanage.

Hansen’s refusal to parent the child she’d adopted raised cries of outrage among adoption advocates across the country and even prompted Russia to suspend its adoption program with the United States for a time.

Eventually, the World Association for Children and Parents, the American agency that facilitated the adoption for Hansen, sued her for breach of contract and child support, apparently on behalf of the Russian group home that’s caring for him.  Hansen meanwhile has fled the state, resettling in Redding, California, albeit without a listed address or telephone number.  Despite being noticed to appear for several court hearings in Tennessee, Hansen  refused to appear for any of them.  Therefore, the judgment against her was taken in her absence by default.  Hansen has hired three separate attorneys in Tennessee, but all have withdrawn from representing her.

Meanwhile,

Hansen filed a lawsuit last month in the Shasta County, Calif., Superior Court against representatives of a Russian orphanage saying the Russian Federation Supreme Court annulled the adoption. “In doing so, it denied defendants the ability to recover a sum of money in the form of child support from plaintiff,” the suit says.

Hansen wants the California court to recognize the Russian decision.

It’s a strange case.  Hansen can’t be reached for comment and her California attorney isn’t returning calls.  So all we have to go on are news accounts of what they’re trying to do in California.  If a Russian court truly annulled the adoption, why didn’t she simply raise that issue in court in Tennessee as a defense to the child support claim?  Indeed, since the issue of support has been ruled upon by the Tennessee court, my guess is that the adoption agency will intervene in Hansen’s California suit with a claim that all issues are res judicata, i.e. already decided.  Such a finding would divest the California court of jurisdiction of her case in the event it has it in the first place.  Her strategy appears to be to set up conflicting court rulings on the issue of child support, but her decision to not show up for any of the hearings in Tennessee seems to have thrown a wrench into that plan.  I’d think the California court would recognize the jurisdiction of the Tennessee court and the validity of its judgment against Hansen and dismiss her suit.

Whatever happens, this story isn’t over yet.  As it stands, her child support obligation starts accruing in June.  She obviously has no intention of paying it, so soon enough, Hansen will be facing jail for refusing to pay the support, plus interest and fees.  State child support enforcement agencies aren’t exactly well-known for their leniency, so we should start to see just how much trouble Torry Hansen got herself into the day she pinned a note to her “son” saying she didn’t want him anymore.

Stay tuned.

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