Asked if social workers tended to favour mothers in custody disputes, Adnan Podzo, director of the Cantonal Social Protection Centre in Sarajevo, said simply: “The decision on who gets custody is made by the court, based on recommendations by the Social Protection Centre.” In 2016, the department for the protection of children’s rights at Bosnia’s ombudsman received 139 complaints, mostly related to rancorous divorces, according to the ombudsman’s latest annual report.
Many accused social workers of being biased, taking too long or failing to take into account the specific circumstances of individual cases, according to department head Marin-Diklic. “In most cases, children’s rights are infringed upon by the parents, but also by the slowness and inefficiency of the system,” she said. “In the end, children always suffer the most.”
Fathers express similar resentments in other former Yugoslav republics with similar language and culture: Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia. In Croatia, the EU’s newest member, family law allows joint custody — but courts still tend to favour mothers as sole custodians. Between November 2013 and November 2014, the latest period for which data is available, 86 per cent of children in Croatia whose parents got divorced ended up with their mothers, according to the state statistics bureau. Just over three per cent ended up in the custody of both parents.
“My experience with the social protection service and the court [in Croatia] is such that I wouldn’t wish it on even my worst enemy,” said Oliver Canic, founder of a fathers’ group in Zagreb called the Association for Equal Parenthood. Canic said custody decisions were full of double standards. “If fathers have jobs, they’re often deemed too busy to look after children,” he said. “If they’re unemployed, they’re not seen as stable providers.”
Meanwhile, mothers with jobs are often not penalised while those who are unemployed are seen as having plenty of time for kids, he said. Under existing family law, joint custody is only possible if both parents agree to it. The Association for Equal Parenthood is proposing changes to the legislation so courts can grant shared custody based on a request from just one parent.