Stefan L. Jouret, Esq., Member, Executive Committee
National Parents Organization of Massachusetts
In August of 2013, the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts awarded Massachusetts father Colin Bower $40,250,000 on his claims against his former wife, Mirvat El-Nady. Ms. El-Nady fled to Cairo, Egypt, in August of 2009, taking their children with her without his consent and in violation of a Massachusetts court order granting sole custody to Bower. The case underscores that courts recognize — and punish — parental actions aimed at depriving children of meaningful bonds with both of their parents.
Considering the amount to award the father in damages, the court stated that “While Bower’s economic damages are a matter of simple calculation, his and his children’s hedonic damages are not. The court is in the impossible position of having to place a dollar value on something that is intangible and invaluable — “the wrongful taking of children from parents with custodial rights, an experience which evokes deep-seated, time-honored, and broad societal concerns regarding the health and development of both the children and the parents wrongfully deprived of the right to share in and guide the passage of their offspring from childhood to adulthood with all of the joy and pleasure that journey usually affords a custodial parent.”
Before reaching its judgment, the Court made a number of factual findings. These included that El-Nady, an Egyptian citizen, and Bower, a U.S. citizen, met in Cairo, Egypt, and were married there in 1998. They later moved to London, where their two sons were born. In 2005, the family moved to Massachusetts, but by December of 2008, the marriage had deteriorated into a divorce. Bower was granted sole legal custody of the children and shared physical custody with El-Nady. The custody decree stipulated that El-Nady was not to remove the children from Massachusetts.
According to the court’s findings, on August 11, 2009, during a scheduled multi-day visit, El-Nady drove the children to John F. Kennedy International Airport and purchased three one-way tickets to Cairo on a departing EgyptAir flight. Bower discovered the children missing and filed a police report. El-Nady was subsequently held in contempt by the Probate and Family Court and charged in both state and federal court with criminal kidnapping offenses. The children, who at the time of the abduction were eight and six years of age, remain in Egypt to this day.
The court found that Bower “worked assiduously since his children’s abduction to secure their return. He has gathered the support of several national political leaders, including then-Senator and now Secretary of State John Kerry and former Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank, who sponsored congressional resolutions calling on the government of Egypt to facilitate the immediate return of the children to the United States.” Despite those efforts and repeated appeals to the Egyptian authorities by members of the U.S. Department of State, the court found that no action has been taken by the Egyptian government. In the four years since the abduction, Bower has seen his children only three times. He has flown to Egypt on at least twelve occasions to date, but El-Nady has repeatedly refused to permit court-ordered visitations.
The visits that have occurred “were under the tight control of El-Nady and members of her family.” Egyptian state security officials were also present. It has been more than a year and a half since he was last able to do so.
The Court also found that the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court’s decision to award sole legal custody to Bower was based in part on El-Nady’s history of substance abuse and the determination by a guardian ad litem and two independent evaluators that she was unable to provide structure and consistent oversight. Also, during his three successful visits, the boys appeared physically unhealthy. In addition, Bower asserted concern that his sons are being indoctrinated in a radical Islamist strain of their Muslim faith and alienated against the United States and Western values.
The court further found that Bower “has logged countless hours and more than $120,000 in expenses traveling to and from Washington, D.C., and Cairo, in his attempts to meet with the children and advocating with U.S. and Egyptian officials for their return. He has also engaged the assistance of legal counsel and investigative services in Egypt and the United States.”
Although the court recognized that “no monetary sum can compensate for this type of loss,” it found El-Nady liable in the amount of $40,000,000.00 in hedonic damages ($20 million to the father and $10 million to each of his children) and $250,000.00 in actual damages. The court stated that this amount conforms to jury verdicts awarded in two similar cases.
Stefan L. Jouret, Esq, is a partner with Jouret & Samito LLP, specializing in civil litigation and appeals.