Hunter Nelson giggled as the leaves crunched beneath his tiny feet. His father watched carefully, never letting the boy leave his sight.
Byron Nelson never lets Hunter get too far away these days. After spending more than a year trying to get his son back from the Bahamas, he was reunited with Hunter, now almost 2 years old, in late October. The Supreme Court of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas granted Nelson custody in accordance with international child abduction laws.
Nelson began working through a legal process last September to get Hunter back from his estranged wife. He said it’s surreal to now hear a child’s voice echoing through his home. He had grown accustomed to eerie silence.
“I’m still kind of in shock,” Nelson, 30, said from his home last week. “I always knew I’d get him back, I just didn’t know when. It’s the end of a nightmare. Now my house is full of kid’s stuff, instead of just this sad place.”
In May, the Beacon published a story about Nelson’s efforts to reclaim his son. Nelson and his wife had taken a vacation to the Bahamas the previous summer to visit his wife’s family. Nelson returned to Kalispell alone, with the expectation that his wife and child would follow later. They never did, and his wife eventually cut off communication.
Nelson initiated a process to return Hunter to Montana through the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Both the U.S. Department of State and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) took up the case.
Robert Lowery, executive director for NCMEC’s missing children division in Alexandria, Va., told the Beacon in May, “Clearly, Mr. Nelson does have the (custody) claim in this regard by our estimation.” A district court judge in the Flathead had granted Nelson custody.
Nelson was told his is the first successful Hague case between the Bahamas and United States.
“With any luck it will help other people,” Nelson said. “If anything it will open it up and make it so it doesn’t take 15 months. That’s how long the process took but it worked and I’m thankful.”
Nelson said his wife’s mother, who often cared for Hunter in the Bahamas, has asked to visit the boy and Nelson has consented. His wife hasn’t contacted him, but Nelson said he would be willing to consider shared custody if it takes place in Kalispell.
Hunter will turn 2 years old on Nov. 29, meaning over half of his life has been spent away from his father. Yet when Nelson saw him for the first time in October, Hunter said “daddy.” When Hunter got back to his birth home, he seemed to recognize his surroundings, Nelson said. The boy ran up to the sliding glass door and pounded on it to call the dogs in from the yard, just as he had done over a year ago.
“He’s adjusted really well,” Byron said. “I think he remembers this house plenty.”
The events of the past year rattled Nelson deeply, but Hunter appears to be unfazed. He doesn’t seem overwhelmed or confused by the change of scenery. Friends and family, including those who have kids to play with Hunter, have helped make the adjustment as comfortable as possible for both father and son.
“The only time he’s cried,” Nelson said, “was when he got a flu shot. He didn’t like that.”
Nelson has taken time off from his siding business to focus on Hunter. They spend every moment of every day together, often surrounded by guests. And when the days are warm enough, Hunter ventures into the front yard, where he has found a new world among the falling leaves.
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