For the first time since abandoning his 11-year-old boy last summer in Lakeville, Steven Cross got to see his son on Wednesday, albeit briefly.

They were both at a child protection hearing in Hastings as a judge worked to determine when Sebastian Cross should be reunited with his father.

The boy has told the court that he is not sure about returning to his father. The preteen reiterated that position to Dakota County District Judge Richard Spicer before the hearing, but apparently to no avail.

"Unification ... is going to happen," Spicer said several times during the hearing.

"No 10-, 11- or 12-year-old wants to be moved about," Spicer said. "He's probably happy where he's at. I don't write the law. I do enforce the law. He will be moving."

It was the first hearing attended by Sebastian, who has been living with his great-aunt for almost nine months during civil and criminal court proceedings.

Cross and his son did not speak to each other Wednesday, and the boy did not noticeably look over at his father. Cross, however, did steal a few glances at Sebastian during the hearing.

Cross, 60, slipped out of his Lakeville home on July 18, 2011, while Sebastian slept. Cross said he left because of what he said were extreme financial difficulties.

Cross, who at the time had sole custody of Sebastian, left a letter for the boy saying that he was leaving and that Sebastian should go to a neighbor's home to stay.

Also in that letter, he told Sebastian that his mother, Katik Porter, who Sebastian had long been told was dead, was actually alive.

'He's a little distraught'

Cross was arrested in August in California, where he had been living in his van.

Cross has been convicted of gross-misdemeanor child neglect, and he is scheduled to be sentenced next month. His son reportedly wants to provide a victim impact statement at the time of the sentencing.

Wednesday's hearing is part of the ongoing process of determining who will gain custody of Sebastian and of deciding when he will be reunited with his parents.

Spicer on Wednesday indicated that Sebastian would be turned over to his mother around May 18 and that the boy eventually would be reunited with his father.

Another hearing on the matter is scheduled for June 13.

Sebastian's great-aunt has been resisting the reunification, and Sebastian has told the judge that he wants to stay with his great-aunt and her family.

"I'm just concerned about Sebastian's transition," Kimii Porter, the great-aunt, said after the hearing.

"He's a little distraught."

But Spicer made it clear that state law has a bias toward reuniting families.

"He will be living with both of them eventually," said Don Bruce, the assistant county attorney assigned to the case.

"Sebastian doesn't get to decide."

The boy's parents agreed last month to share legal and physical custody. They also agreed to allow Sebastian to regularly see one of his half brothers.

"The thought of moving is terrifying," said Sharon Freiling, Sebastian's attorney. "He didn't know he had a mother who was living. He didn't know he had brothers, uncles. He's afraid he's going to lose [contact with] his family."

Heron Marquez • 952-746-3281