Toddler Says One Word at His Adoption Hearing That Changes Everything for the Judge

So many people dream of starting a family and welcoming their own baby into the world. In some cases, this just isn’t possible, and many couples choose a different path to have kids of their own. Foster care and adoption can be wonderful ways for new families to form, but the journey can be long, tiring, and filled with obstacles and problems that need to be overcome.

Tyler and Mandi Palmer posing together.
Photo by Ann- Marie Finn / Finn Photography

Tyler Palmer and Mandi Palmer, a young Ohio couple, had been dreaming of starting a family for a long time. Little did they know that their path to parenthood would be much longer and more surprising that anyone could ever have expected! In December of 2017, they became foster parents, taking their first steps on a journey that led all the way up to a dramatic court hearing, changing their lives forever.

A Brave Soldier

Way back in 2010, many years before Tyler and Mandi were even thinking about foster care and adoption, Tyler decided to enlist in the US Army. He wanted to serve his country with bravery and honor, defending the freedoms and liberties of the land he grew up in.

Tyler Palmer in uniform sitting in the sand next to where he drew ‘M heart T.’
Source: Facebook

Just three weeks after basic training, Tyler was deployed in Afghanistan, one of the most hostile territories on Earth for a US Army soldier. In October of 2001, the US had invaded Afghanistan. This led to a long, deadly war in which many people lost their lives on both sides. Tyler had to go through it all, putting his life on the line to serve America and protect its people.

Star Crossed Lovers

Luckily, Tyler made it through his time in Afghanistan without any serious injuries. It was a scary time, and he feared for his life and the lives of his comrades every day, but he made it through to the other side. When he got back home, he was still affected by the horrors of what he’d seen at war and needed the love, care, and support of his family and friends to help him adjust to civilian life all over again.

Tyler and Mandi Palmer posing in front of a mirror, Tyler in uniform.
Source: Facebook

Getting back into the rhythm of regular life can often be difficult for soldiers. It was for Tyler, too, but he did his best to go out and socialize. That was how he met Mandi in 2013. She changed his life forever, and the pair quickly fell in love.

The Perfect Couple

Some couples just know when they’ve met the right person for them. They can tell from the start that they’ll never want anyone else in their lives. They know deep down that this person is their soulmate and that they’ll get married and have kids. That’s how it was for Mandi and Tyler.

Mandi and Tyler kissing at a military event with Tyler in uniform.
Source: Facebook

They got along so well right from their very first meeting. They loved spending time together, and everything was going great for them. Unfortunately, some terrible news came along to disrupt their happy romance: Tyler had to go back to Afghanistan. A second tour was about to begin for the brave soldier, right when he was finally starting to feel at home.

The Second Tour Starts

So, Tyler set off for his second tour, hoping to get back to his love as soon as he could. It was difficult for Tyler to keep in touch with Mandi when he was away. The distance put a lot of strain on their relationship. It also put a lot of mental strain on Tyler himself. He was struggling to cope with the horrible realities of the war in Afghanistan.

Tyler in his nice dress uniform and Mandi in a black dress.
Source: Pinterest

Every day, things seemed to be getting worse all around him. Still, the couple did their best to stay strong. They both thought about the future, dreaming of a happy life together. Mandi was struggling too in her own way, as she suffered from a chronic illness.

Mandi’s Never-ending Struggles

Ever since she was a teenager, Mandi had been living with a chronic illness known as Crohn’s disease. In high school, she was given a lifelong diagnosis. Doctors told her she’d have to get used to living with this disease, as there was no way to cure it. The symptoms included aches and pains, but Mandi always did her best to stay upbeat and positive.

Mandi with an IV in her arm, sitting in a hospital bed with a hospital gown on.
Source: Facebook

She’s an inspiring lady, someone who faces pain and difficulty every day but always tries to keep a smile on her face. She even had to undergo several surgeries to deal with the symptoms of her disease. These surgeries led to Mandi losing large parts of her stomach and intestines.

Things Start Looking Up

Mandi and Tyler had been through a lot. Tyler had suffered so much mentally in the war. Meanwhile, Mandi had been suffering physically and emotionally for large parts of her life. They both had encountered major challenges but made it through to the other side. And they were so happy when Tyler finally came home.

Tyler on one knee proposing to Mandi, who is sitting on a picnic table.
Source: Facebook

To celebrate his return, Tyler decided that he wasn’t going to re-enlist ever again. He was suffering too much and needed help. He had PTSD, but Mandi helped to guide him through it. They moved to Ohio together, and Tyler proposed to Mandi soon afterward. Suddenly, their lives were speeding up and moving in a very positive direction.

Thinking About the Future

Tyler and Mandi were finally happy. They were together, and they had a wonderful wedding. As husband and wife, they felt like anything was possible. It was only natural that they then started to think about the future. Both of them had always wanted to settle down and have kids, and it seemed like the time was right. However, they also knew that it might not be easy.

Tyler and Mandi kissing at their wedding ceremony.
Source: Facebook

They were ready to start a family, but they knew that Mandi had a serious illness, which might complicate matters. To learn more and start figuring out what to do next, they began researching Crohn’s disease further and seeing what effects it could have on pregnancy.

Big Dreams for A Big Family

Tyler and Mandi weren’t sure if they could conceive naturally. It was a major worry for them. Sadly, while many couples have no problems getting pregnant, many others can struggle with this part of life. Sometimes, diseases or injuries can get in the way. Other times, fertility problems can make it impossible for a couple to conceive.

The couple posing, Mandi dressed in a beautiful white dress and Tyler in a button-down shirt with a blue tie.
Source: Facebook

In the case of Mandi and Tyler, they knew that their chances were low due to her illness. But they still wanted to try. Mandi said that they both had a strong desire to found a family, but they just didn’t know what God had in store for them. They started to try to get pregnant naturally. Unfortunately, it wasn’t working. They tried for several years, but it just never worked out.

Keeping Their Hope Alive

Mandi and Tyler were used to things being difficult. They never had it easy. Mandi had been dealing with her illness for many years, and Tyler had experienced a lot of difficulties too. So, when they were faced with another big challenge to try and get pregnant, they didn’t give up.

Mandi and Tyler taking a selfie sitting in front of a grassy area.
Source: Facebook

They knew that their chances of having a baby naturally were almost non-existent. So, they started researching other options. They wanted to learn more about foster care and adoption. If they couldn’t have a biological baby of their own, they could still give a home and lots of love to another child. After all, they had a lot of love to give!

Learning More About Fostering

While doing their research, Tyler and Mandi were mainly focused on adoption. But as they learned more about the system, they started to take a real interest in foster care. They learned that there weren’t many foster carers in their area. This meant that many kids were having to live sad and lonely lives, waiting for families that never came.

A headshot of Mandi with a huge smile on her face.
Source: Facebook

There was a big need for more foster parents, and Tyler and Mandi thought they’d be perfect for the job. It could be a great step towards founding a family of their own someday, as foster carers are more likely to be approved for adoption after showing what good parents they can be. They made the decision and signed up for a licensing program to become foster carers.

So Much Time Had Been Wasted

Tyler and Mandi started to get their hopes up. They felt that their whole lives had been leading to this moment. They also felt like they’d both wasted many years trying for a baby, even though it was almost impossible. Now, it was time for them to take action and start bringing their dreams to life. They knew that the foster process wasn’t simple or speedy.

A row of diapers at the supermarket.
Photo by Funstock /

It takes a lot of time to get licensed and then to officially be able to welcome foster kids into your home. In some cases, the process can take years. The couple had to fill out a lot of forms, take tests, and jump through many hoops to prove they could be good parents. They never let their heads drop, but one day, they received a dramatic phone call that changed everything.

A Real-Life Miracle

Tyler and Mandi had only just officially become licensed foster carers when they got a call. It was a call they’d never forget, and it was a call that would change both of their lives forever! On the other end of the line was a social worker. She revealed that an eight-day-old baby required a home, and she asked if they’d be willing to take the infant in!

Photo of their baby at 8 days old who needed to be picked up.
Source: Facebook

It was completely amazing news for Tyler and Mandi. They’d worked so hard to get to that point, and they thought they might have to wait many more weeks, months, or even years to look after a child. Now, suddenly, they had a one of a kind opportunity. It felt like fate, and the couple accepted the offer and rushed out to buy baby supplies.

Secretly Hoping for Something More

Tyler and Mandi were thrilled to get the news. They couldn’t wait to welcome the little boy into their home. They wanted to hold him in their arms, read him bedtime stories, feed him each day, and help him grow up big and strong. But there was one thing on both of their minds. They wanted more than just being his foster parents.

Photo of the new baby yawning while leaning on Tyler’s uniform.
Source: Facebook

It felt like a true miracle that a baby would arrive in their home at just the right moment, and they wished they could keep him forever. Would they be able to? Or would another set of parents arrive on the scene to adopt him? They didn’t know it would all work out, but they were excited to begin the process.

The Very First Fateful Meeting

Can you imagine how happy Tyler and Mandi must have been to meet their boy for the first time? His name was Hunter, and Tyler and Mandi had an appointment with children’s services to see him. Mandi can still remember that moment like it was yesterday. She remembers how Hunter was “all bundled up in a receiving blanket” in the arms of their caseworker.

Hunter napping across Mandi’s chest.
Source: Facebook

She said he was “absolutely perfect” and added that the couple “fell in love with him instantly.” They were so happy, but soon their happiness started to change into worry and fear. They adored Hunter so much and were suddenly very scared at the idea of losing him someday.

A Constant Worry for Foster Carers

Tyler and Mandi weren’t the only ones to experience that kind of fear and worry. It’s something that many foster carers have to deal with. It’s so easy to get attached and emotionally connected, especially when it comes to children. But part of being a foster carer is accepting that the children you care for might have to go away into new homes and families someday.

Hunter sitting on a beam smiling.
Source: Facebook

It’s a very difficult part of the process, and it was something that Mandi and Tyler worried about all the time. They were especially scared at the idea that Hunter’s biological parents might someday decide to ask for him back. Many states have laws that allow this, and the biological parents usually have more rights than foster parents.

Time to Take Action

Tyler and Mandi realized that they were living in a state of almost constant fear. Every day with Hunter was amazing, but it was also so scary to think that they could eventually lose him and have no control over what happened. They needed to take action. They’d waited too long and gone through too much in their lives. They didn’t want to have to deal with another horrible experience.

Hunter wearing a bomber jacket leaning against the couch.
Source: Facebook

They couldn’t lose their baby boy, so they decided to begin the official adoption procedure. If they could legally adopt Hunter, then they’d become his parents, and nobody could take him away ever again. They knew that the process would be long and difficult, but they were ready to do whatever it took to keep their little boy. Eventually, their final court hearing was scheduled for December 18 of 2017.

The End of a Long Journey

When Tyler and Mandi first got that call about Hunter, they took the first steps on a very long and challenging journey. When they saw him for the first time, they felt like he was destined to be their son. They felt a bond with him, and they were willing to do anything to make him officially and legally theirs so that nothing could ever break their family apart.

Tyler and Mandi posing for a family photo with Hunter.
Source: Facebook

The court date represented the final step of their journey. They prepared absolutely everything they could and got themselves, and Hunter, ready for the big day. They hoped and prayed that it would all turn out okay. But really, they couldn’t be sure what was going to happen. It was all in the hands of the judge, who had a big decision to make.

Non-Stop Challenges Along the Way

Let’s not forget that even while Mandi and Tyler were fighting for the future of their family, they were also still dealing with many other problems! Mandi’s Crohn’s disease was still affecting her daily. She needed multiple surgeries in the months leading up to the court date and still had a lot of bad days because of her illness.

Tyler and Mandi in the courtroom signing a piece of paper.
Photo by Ann- Marie Finn / Finn Photography

Tyler was also still recovering from his PTSD. He often had nightmares and dark thoughts of his time in the war. It was a traumatic experience that he knew he’d have to live with forever. Still, even with these obstacles and so many other challenges in the way, the inspiring couple continued to fight for their future.

The Big Day Finally Arrives

Tyler and Mandi were so nervous, leading up to that big court hearing date. Hunter was a year and a half by then, so the little family had spent a lot of time together. Mandi and Tyler had watched their foster son grow into an adorable little guy. They raised him as their own, becoming more and more attached to him every day.

Mandi holding Hunter in the courtroom while he claps.
Photo by Ann- Marie Finn / Finn Photography

Now, they were about to learn whether or not they’d be officially allowed to call him their son. The courtroom was filled up with nervous family members and friends, all waiting to see what would happen. They all had the same thing in mind: would the judge rule in flavor of Mandi and Tyler? Or would he deny them their right to adopt Hunter?

A Day They Would Never Forget

Tyler and Mandi, as well as their family and friends, didn’t know how the day would pan out. But they did know one thing: whatever happened, it was a day they would never forget. That court hearing had the potential to make or break their family. It could be the happiest day of their lives, but it also had the potential to be one of the worst experiences they ever had to go through.

The judge down at the bench with Mandi, Tyler, and the family shaking Mandi’s hand.
Photo by Ann- Marie Finn / Finn Photography

They’d already gone through so much in their lives. Mandi and Tyler were strong and tough, but they both feared that losing Hunter could be the thing that finally broke their spirit. They thought that the day would be decided by the judge, but it was actually Hunter who changed the whole course of the case!

One Word Changed It All

The moment finally came. With everyone gathered together in the courtroom, the judge revealed his decision. He read out Hunter’s new legal name: Hunter Russel Palmer. It was official! Mandi and Tyler were the new legal adoptive parents of the boy they’d raised since he was just a baby!

Mandi, Tyler, and Hunter in front of a Christmas tree in the courthouse, with Tyler holding a board with the adoption information written.
Photo by Ann- Marie Finn / Finn Photography

But the court hearing wasn’t over just yet. Little Hunter had something to say. While everyone was crying with happiness and smiling around at each other, the young boy said just one word that convinced the judge he made the right decision. That word was “Dad”! Hunter looked right over at Tyler and called him “Dad,” and then the tears really started to fall all around the room.

A Special Gift for A Special Boy

When he called Tyler ‘dad’, Hunter made the day so much more magical and memorable for everyone in the room. All of the friends and family members were so happy to witness such a beautiful moment, and even the judge himself was emotionally affected by the scene.

The judge handing hunter a gavel with a blue bow tied around it.
Photo by Ann- Marie Finn / Finn Photography

In fact, he decided to walk on over and give Hunter a gift. He handed him a little gavel to play with, so he could always remember the day that he officially found his new family. Meanwhile, Tyler and Mandi were overjoyed. They could finally breathe a huge sigh of relief, knowing that nobody would ever take their son away.

Such A Special Christmas

Don’t forget that the court date was in the middle of December, just about a week before Christmas! Mandi and Tyler must have been singing “All I Want for Christmas Is You” to little Hunter every single day, and they had the best possible gift when the judge made his decision.

Tyler holding Hunter while speaking to the judge.
Photo by Ann- Marie Finn / Finn Photography

The boy they had loved and raised as their own was finally, legally, officially a part of their family. Mandi could hardly contain her excitement, saying, “Our hearts are forever changed because we now know true and genuine love. We know that he will forever be safe with us and, most importantly, will always know what love is. We have learned that family isn’t about DNA. It’s about love!”

Spreading the Word and Raising Awareness

After experiencing the joys and positive experiences of foster care and adoption for themselves, Mandi and Tyler wanted to spread that happiness around to as many people as possible. Ever since the day they got Hunter, they’ve been advocating for fostering and adopting.

Mandi and Tyler sitting in the courtroom with Hunter clapping and laughing.
Photo by Ann- Marie Finn / Finn Photography

They told all of their friends, family, and colleagues about it, encouraging other people to do some research and find out more about fostering opportunities in their area. Mandi even started up her own online blog, sharing stories from her life with Hunter and reminding us all that there are many other babies, toddlers, and older kids in the foster system, waiting for families to welcome them in.

The Story Goes Viral

By the time Mandi and Tyler officially adopted Hunter, the story had started to go viral. Some media crews and news outlets got in touch with the happy couple and sat down for interviews with them to learn more about the story. Mandi and Tyler revealed the hardships they’d endured along the way, adding that it was all worth it in the end.

Mandi and Tyler holding Hunter in front of an open area with trees.
Source: Facebook

Mandi said, “On adoption day, it’s almost like a ton of bricks just came off our chest. We now know that he’s never leaving us. He’ll always be safe and loved with us. So that in itself is rewarding.” These two brave people overcame some of life’s toughest challenges. They went through physical and mental suffering, enduring so much, but made it through to the other side. They deserve all the happiness in the world, and we wish them nothing but the best.