Russia Demands Child Support of Tennessee Woman

This is one I can’t even begin to figure out (Times News, 1/22/11).

Remember Torry Hansen?  She’s a single woman from Shelbyville, Tennessee who, about a year and a half ago adopted an eight year old boy from Russia.  She used the services of an adoption agency in Oregon to help her with the process.

Sure enough, she was united with the little lad, but all was not well.  It seems he manifested psychological problems that, as far as I’ve seen have never been described.  But I have no doubt that Hansen was telling the truth about his emotional issues.  My understanding is that children adopted out of orphanages can sometimes arrive with significant emotional baggage.

What’s often the problem is attachment disorder.  That stems from the fact that, in many orphanages abroad, children get the barest minimum of care.  That means feeding and sanitation, and often little else.  What they don’t get is what children need to form the neurological connections in the brain to allow them to connect with other people and to feel connected.  These children often don’t get held, petted, talked to, sung to, played with, etc.  The person who feeds them on Monday may not be the person who feeds them on Tuesday.

And children who endure that sort of early life can have terrible problems with anger and a host of other emotional issues.  Those can begin in early childhood and in some cases continue for a lifetime. 

So I suspect Torry Hansen’s adopted son manifested some form of attachment disorder.  Why wouldn’t he? 

So after six months, Hansen punted.  She won international attention by literally pinning a note on the boy, placing him on an airplane bound for Russia and, at least figuratively, washing her hands of him.  The note said he had psychological problems and she didn’t want to be his mom anymore.  Nice.

That was last April, and at the time, Hansen was the target of a fair amount of rhetorical shoe-throwing.  Most commentators took the position that if a person adopts a child, he/she becomes the child’s parent and parents can’t just take their new son or daughter to the complaint department and demand their money back.  They seemed to think “once a parent, always a parent” and that parenthood carries certain obligations.

Hansen obviously disagreed.

Tennessee authorities haven’t objected in any way to what she did.  No criminal charges have been filed for child abandonment or the like.

But the adoption agency didn’t take kindly to Hansen’s dumping of a child it had worked to place in her care.  Neither, it seems did the Russian government which has filed suit against Hansen in a Tennessee court to get child support.  They’ve asked the court to order Hansen to pay support of $2,500 per month to the Russian government in whose orphanage the little boy once more resides.

And it’s at that point that I don’t know what the legal conclusion might be.  Hansen’s attorney says the Tennessee court has no jurisdiction over a child in Russia.  That sounds right.  And I can’t see that the Russian court would have jurisdiction to order Hansen to pay support.

But what’s also true is that the adoption was completed.  That makes Hansen the child’s mother whether she wants to be or not.  That carries certain responsibilities that she’s clearly abandoned.  Except in the case of Baby Moses laws, parents can’t simply turn a child over to someone and be done with it.

Or maybe they can, at least in this case.  Hansen committed a terrible wrong; the problem comes in finding someone to do something about it. 

We’ve seen in adoption cases that the law treats children uncomfortably like chattels.  That is, possession goes a long way toward determining, if not property rights then parental ones.  Here too, the inability of courts either here or in Russia to order a parent to support her child suggests that he’s more a thing than a person.  Where he is seems more important than who he is.

So I suspect this whole thing will go away fairly soon.  Still, the actions of the adoption agency and the Russian government seem to reflect an understandable frustration with Hansen’s treatment of a little boy.  Children aren’t supposed to be chattels.  Hansen doesn’t seem to have gotten the memo.

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