March 18th, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
The Tennessee woman who adopted a Russian boy, kept him for a few months and then put him on a plane back to Russia, will have to pay child support for him as well as unspecified damages. That’s what a Tennessee judge ruled on March 7th. Read about it here (Washington Post, 3/7/12).
From the start it’s been one of the strangest cases going. The adoptive mother, Torry Hansen, discovered, shortly after the boy arrived, that he had some behavioral problems. I don’t know what she was expecting given that the lad had spent most of his life in an orphanage, but whatever the case, she pronounced herself surprised and unable to deal with him. So she put him on a plane back to Moscow.
He’s been in a group home there ever since. Administrators of the home say his behavior can be difficult, but nothing that can’t be dealt with. Meanwhile, according to Hansen, a Russian court nullified the adoption amid bitter recriminations directed at the adoptive mother.
But the Oregon agency that facilitated the adoption seems to have been none too happy with Hansen. My guess is that it either did a fair amount of business with Russia or wanted to, and Hansen’s outrageous actions turned off that tap. So, under a legal theory I don’t understand, the adoption agency went to court in Tennessee asking for child support. Apparently it intends to hold the money in trust for the child, to be paid at some later date to him, the group home, another adoptive parent, or someone.
Hansen has totally refused to cooperate in any way with the legal proceedings against her. She apparently hasn’t answered the suit and, although noticed to do so, has refused to appear for depositions. So the judge entered a default judgment against her ordering that she pay child support plus damages. Another hearing is scheduled for May at which time the amount of support will be decided.
Obviously, this case is far from over. But at some point, the Attorney General of Tennessee will acquaint Hansen with her obligations under that state’s child support laws. That means that, if she doesn’t pay up - and I see no likelihood that she will – she’ll start accruing interest and fees. Eventually, she’ll be ruled in contempt of court and she’ll face the choice of paying or going to jail.
Now, my guess is that there are at least some legal theories with which Hansen could defend the case against her. For example, if the Russian nullification of the adoption is binding in this country, then Hansen’s not a parent at all and can’t be made to pay. But if she were very confident of her legal position, wouldn’t she assert it in court instead of hiding out who knows where?
Besides, if she continues to refuse to take part in the proceedings, pretty soon her legal arguments won’t make a bit of difference. If she continues to refuse to assert them, at some point a judge will tell her she had her chance and blew it. Indeed, that’s what the judge just did. So soon enough, Torry Hansen may well find herself in an untenable legal position entirely of her own making.
As I said, this one’s not over yet, but the door is closing fast on Torry Hansen’s ability to once and for all get clear of the boy she once adopted.