LYNCHBURG, Tenn. (AP) — A judge in Tennessee ruled that an American woman who sent her adopted son back to Russia is liable for child support in a lawsuit brought by her former adoption agency.
Torry Hansen was living in Shelbyville in April 2010 when she sent her then-7-year-old adopted son on a plane alone back to Moscow with a note that said the boy was violent and she no longer wanted to keep him.
Her adoption agency, World Association for Children and Parents, filed a lawsuit in Bedford County seeking child support for the boy. After she repeatedly failed to appear in court or respond to requests for a deposition, Circuit Court Judge Lee Russell on Wednesday approved a motion for a default judgment against Hansen.
Hansen faxed the court a letter on Tuesday that said she no longer lived in Tennessee and she wanted to request a court-appointed attorney. But Russell said that for the court to appoint her an attorney, she would have to appear in court to answer financial questions, which she refused.
Hansen said in the letter that the adoption was "canceled" and that she was not his legal parent.
"I do not believe that I can obtain a fair and unbiased hearing from this court," she said in the letter. No phone number is listed at Hansen's California address.
Russell said he gave her ample opportunity to participate in the case and she has not complied with his orders to give a deposition to the adoption agency's attorney, so he granted the default judgment.
No criminal charges have ever been filed in the matter, which sparked outrage among Russian officials. Attorneys for the adoption agency said Hansen has finally been held responsible.
"Whether or not Ms. Hansen will ever realize the consequences of her actions remains to be seen, but at least we know now there has a been a ruling by the court that she has been determined to be liable for her actions," said Larry Crain, attorney for WACAP, after the hearing.
The exact amount of child support and damages will be determined at a hearing in May, and Crain said he intends to present testimony then about the boy's current condition and what impact her actions had on him.
"The real victim here is Justin Hansen, and his voice needs to be heard in this case," Larry Crain said, referring to the name that the Hansen family called the boy, who has been identified in court documents as Artem Saveliev.
The boy is currently living in a group home in the Moscow suburb of Tomilino with other children who cannot be adopted. Crain said a custodian for the child in Russia has said in an affidavit that the child support funds would go into a trust fund for his exclusive benefit.
Crain said they will be seeking back payment of child support as well as support for him until he turns 18. He said that despite her failing to show up in court or answer questions, there were ways to get her to pay child support.
"A child support arrearage order is enforceable in all 50 states under uniform laws and she can be found and this order will be enforced," he said.
Crain said the ruling may set a legal precedent in adoption cases and may lead to better protections for adopted children.
"The irony is if you leave a child in a car with the windows rolled up in a parking lot today, you can be arrested," Crain said. "But sending a child 3,000 miles across the Atlantic and there are no consequences for it, that is truly disturbing," he said.