Mother takes £17m cut in divorce deal to be with children

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A mother at the centre of a bitter custody battle yesterday gave up £17.5m of her divorce settlement in order to be reunited with her children.

A mother at the centre of a bitter custody battle yesterday gave up £17.5m of her divorce settlement in order to be reunited with her children.

Mona al-Khatib offered her "heartfelt thanks" to judges as her four-year mission to obtain custody of her two teenage daughters finally came to an end. The legal battle began in 2000 when her husband Abdullah Masry, a doctor, took their two daughters, aged 16 and 13, along with two of their three elder brothers from their London home to the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah.

Two years later the courts ordered Dr Masry to pay a record settlement of £26.3m to his former wife and return the two daughters. He complied with neither demand.

Yesterday's hearing in the Court of Appeal marked the final chapter in the custody cases. Lord Justice Thorpe announced that Mrs Khatib, from Virginia Water in Surrey, had agreed to the new settlement after mediation with her former husband.

As part of the agreement, Mrs Khatib would have her divorce settlement reduced by £17.5m, receiving the proceeds of the former London home and the sale of a villa in the South of France to set up a trust fund for herself and the children.

At the same time, the two girls would remain based in Saudi Arabia with their father but stay with their mother during holidays. The massive cut in her divorce settlement was a small price to pay for Mrs Khatib to be reunited with her two daughters. A statement said: "The most important thing is that her relationship with her children has been restored and she has been reunited with them.

"She would like to say that the financial aspect of the litigation is, to her, insignificant compared to the resumption of her relationship with her children ... She would also like to express her heartfelt thanks to the Court of Appeal, the mediators and her legal teams for all the hard work and determination in bringing about her happy reunion with her children."

The original £26.3m settlement in 2002 was hailed at the time as a record financial payout but ultimately proved to be little more than a pyrrhic victory for Mrs Khatib.

Dr Masry, 56, who claimed to have taken his daughters to Saudi Arabia to prevent the loss of their heritage, subsequently defied court orders to either pay the money or return the girls to their mother. An international arrest warrant over his alleged contempt of English court was suspended earlier this year when he attended mediation proceedings in London.

His lawyers told the Appeal Court in May that Dr Masry would not pay the award because he considered himself a subject of the Muslim sharia law which did not recognise the divorce. Dr Masry argued that when they married 20 years ago, they both agreed that their children would be raised according to Saudi Arabian culture.

However, he also claimed that the sharia court ordered his former wife to return to Saudi Arabia but she had "jettisoned her cultural heritage and embraced Western ways".

At the same time, Lord Justice Thorpe had told the hearing in the Court of Appeal that the daughters were being "imprisoned" because of the conflict between the two parents.

Yesterday, Lord Justice Thorpe said the deal showed how children need not be treated as "pawns or possessions". He added: "This is an outcome which reflects great credit on the generosity of both parents."

Dr Masry also welcomed the outcome, which would enable the family to have "a happier and more settled way of life". A statement read: "Dr Masry is personally pleased that his daughters have both chosen, with the full agreement of their mother, to continue to make their principal home with him in Saudi Arabia. They will see their mother on a regular basis during school holidays."