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January 29th, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Two U.S. adoption agencies have sued Tennesseean Torry Hansen for child support for a Russian boy she adopted but then sent back to Russia when she determined he had psychological problems.  Read about it here (The Republic, 1/24/12).

It’s a strange plot twist in an already strange story.  About three years ago, Torry Hansen, who was single, decided she wanted to adopt a child.  Assisted by the World Association for Children and Parents and the National Council for Adoption, she adopted a little boy out of a Russian orphanage.  He was seven at the time. 

But little Artem Saveliev spent only a few months with Hansen before she decided he was too much of a problem for her to deal with.  Saying he had psychological problems and citing a drawing he made of a burning building with people inside as proof, Hansen bought him a one-way ticket back to Moscow.  She was done with him.

Since then, Artem has lived in what we in the United States would call a group home.

The SOS village — although technically an orphanage — provides home and family environment to children who have lost hope of being adopted. Children at Tomilino range from 7 to 16 and are typically watched over by a woman who also serves as a teacher.

In short, abandoned by Hansen, Artem will never have real parents.  Here in the U.S., group foster homes are among the worst places a child can be.  Children grow up with little hands-on parenting and with a great likelihood of being abused by caretakers and older children.  Whether the same holds true in Russia, I can’t say, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

Hansen treated Artem like a fish she’d caught; she wanted a trout but got a mullet, so she threw it back.  That’s despicable behavior by anyone’s definition, but what makes it more so is the fact that she never gave the boy a real chance.  She took a little boy who’d lived most of his life in an orphanage and who was then sent to a strange culture with a strange language in the care of a woman he didn’t know and figuratively said “you’ve got six months to shape up or you’re out.”

Apparently he failed the test so she pinned a note on him saying he was a problem and she didn’t want him anymore, and put him on a plane.  At least she didn’t box him up and send him by FedEx.

Meanwhile, the Russians who run Artem’s group home disagree with Hansen’s assessment.

[SOS Village Director Anatoly]Vasilyev said Artem “tries to forget about his life in the States”, and that’s the reason why the orphanage is not allowing the media to see him for the time being. He added that the child gets along well with other children and has almost forgotten English and doesn’t seem to want to speak it…

Staffers at the SOS village outside Moscow said Artem has no real issues to speak of.

“He does have psychological problems,” Vasilyev said. “But they are not as serious as she described. It’s mostly due to the psychological traumas he’s had, and it’s not something that cannot be dealt with.”

Hansen’s behavior has apparently made the adoption agencies who facilitated her adoption of Artem very, very unhappy.  So they’ve filed suit in Tennessee court to force her to pay child support, presumably to the group home in Russia.

The legalities of that I can’t begin to figure out.  For one thing, Hansen claims that a Russian court annulled the original adoption, so it’s possible that she’s no longer Artem’s legal mother, although she certainly was for a while.  But what effect does that annulment, if it exists, have on U.S. courts?  Surely Tennessee acquired jurisdiction of the boy once he began residing there.  But that only lasted six months, so who has the right to say what about child support?  I don’t have a clue. 

Further, no Tennessee court or law enforcement agency has taken any action against Hansen, which I count as strange.  After all, can any parent do what Hansen did?  If Mom gets tired of junior, can she just put him on a plane to a land far, far away and be done with him?  No, so why can Torry Hansen?  Her adoption of him conferred certain rights on her, so what about her obligations?  Whatever the answers to those questions, Tennessee courts aren’t interested in them.

At the same time, how can it be the business of the adoption agencies to force her to pay child support?  What legal dog do they have in that fight?  None that I can see.  Oh, I’m sure their adopton business with Russian authorities has suffered on account of Hansen’s irresponsible action, but I can’t see that that gives them the power to take her to court for child support.

From where I sit, it looks like a case of a couple of mightily p.o.’ed adoption agencies looking to make an outrageously irresponsible woman suffer in any way they can.  I can understand their motives, but I doubt they’ll succeed.

In the mean time, Torry Hansen’s outrageous behavior has dealt a blow to the business of international adoption.  There are millions of children worldwide being warehoused in orphanages where they get only the bare minimum of care.  That means they get fed and kept clean.  Beyond that, they receive little or nothing in the way of actual care.  They aren’t cuddled, sung to, read to, held or made to feel special.  They aren’t special; each is one of too many to count.

In her small way, Torry Hansen helped to block their access to a better life.

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