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Attorneys blast motion in Russian adoption case

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"Abhorrent" is how attorneys representing two adoption agencies involved in the matter of an boy sent back to Russia are describing arguments to dismiss the case.

In late December, a lawyer representing Torry Hansen filed a motion to dismiss child support claims made by Hansen's adoption agency, the World Association for Children and Parents (WACAP).

Hansen caused an international uproar last April after she sent then 7-year-old Justin Hansen on a plane to Moscow by himself with a note saying that she didn't want to be his adoptive mother anymore because the child was violent and had psychological problems.

Russian authorities have stated they want Hansen to pay about $2,500 a month to care for the child, who is currently living in an orphanage.

Hansen's former attorney, Trisha Henegar, argued that Bedford County's juvenile court lacks jurisdiction to order child support because Tennessee is not the boy's "home state" and said the termination of Hansen's parental rights is currently being handled by a Russian court.

Henegar is no longer representing the Hansens, and the case has been taken by Nashville attorney Jennifer Thompson.

But attorneys for the two adoption agencies blasted Henegar's arguments in their response filed Monday, saying it poses "a significant risk" to any adopted child whose parents find adjustment more difficult than expected.

"Shell game"

Lawyers Larry L. Crain and Ray C. Stoner stated that Henegar's motion failed to address that there is no treaty that would allow a Russian court to enforce a child support order against Hansen and that the Russian Federation "clearly recognize" that the Bedford County court is to establish support.

Crain represents WACAP while Stoner represents the National Council for Adoption (NCFA), which is identified in court papers as the designated liaison for Leonid Lvovich Mityaev, the physical custodian of Justin in Moscow.

Henegar wrote in December that the NCFA has been trying to persuade a court in Moscow to postpone proceedings that would terminate Hansen's parental rights.

Hansen "will not have to pay child support in Tennessee once her rights are terminated and will not be held criminally liable," Henegar wrote in the motion to dismiss.

Henegar also claimed that Tennessee state law defines the "home state" as where a child lived with a parent for at least six months and that Justin lived with the family in Bedford County less than six months before he was sent back.

But Crain and Stoner said the motion to dismiss "takes (Hansen's) shell game of avoiding all accountability to this child to new heights ..." by saying that laws enacted to protect children could be used to deny the local juvenile court's jurisdiction.

"If an adoptive parent in Tennessee could avoid their child support obligations by placing the child on an airplane to California just four months after they receive custody, then the statutes would be meaningless," Crain and Stoner wrote. "This argument is nothing more than a mockery of these child protection statutes."

Admits abandonment?

The attorneys for the adoption agencies also blast the Hansen's argument that they were victims of fraud and that the fraud should be the basis for annulling the adoption and freeing Hansen of any child support obligations, calling it "salacious" and "most frivolous."

"In short, they have admitted this was abandonment -- though they are claiming fraud as justification," Crain and Stoner wrote.

They say that the court "must reject these 'new facts'" that they say is unsupported by any affidavit. Crain and Stoner also wrote that the argument that fraud leads to automatic annulment can not be legally correct, otherwise, any adoptive parent could simply send a child away like the Hansens did.

"An order dismissing the case on these grounds gives any stressed-out parent a free pass to ship her child overseas to avoid any legal or financial responsibility to the child," the adoption attorneys wrote. "It cannot be in a civilized society, that criminal abandonment of a child is excusable on any basis much less on an alleged fraud in the underlaying adoption."

Crain and Stoner also stated there was a legal process to either surrender Justin or file proper proceedings to nullify the adoption and that "there was simply no need for them to resort to abandonment and neglect of this child."

They say that the Hansen dismissal motion does nothing to undercut the fact that Bedford County juvenile court is the only place to hear whether "Torry Hansen, as the mother of this abandoned child, is responsible for child support for her son."

The adoption attorneys are requesting an oral argument on the motion to dismiss.

Crain stated last May that they went to court out of frustration that no one was investigating claims that the Hansens abandoned and endangered the child.

However, since the incident occurred last year, local authorities have said they have not been able to file any charges against the Hansens because there is no evidence that any crime was committed in Bedford County.