MOUNT VERNON — Of the hundreds of custody cases heard in the Knox County Court of Common Pleas Domestic Relations Division, many are mediated — confidentially and free of charge — by the court mediator and attorney, Carrie Tenschert.
“The goals of the program are for people to make decisions themselves about their families,” Tenschert explained.
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles examining the different roles the court, mediators, and law enforcement can have in settling child custody disputes. Thursday, the News examines the role of the court in such matters. In Friday’s edition, a court mediator explains the role of her office. Saturday’s edition will look at the role law enforcement can and cannot play in custody issues.
“People are happier having control of the outcome, without the court making the decisions for them,” she said.
Tenschert, who has been a mediator since 2005, said when couples first sit down with her to have their court-mandated assessments, emotions can run quite high. The parties typically meet with Tenschert individually, and then attend a mediation together.
“Sometimes it’s difficult, and there are a lot of emotions, but the goal is to keep a calm environment to make decisions,” Tenschert explained.
If it appears mediation is possible, the couples meet with Tenschert, usually without their attorneys present, until an agreement can be hammered out between the two individuals.
“It can take anywhere from two to four sessions, and generally the attorneys choose not to be there,” Tenschert said. “But the attorneys can review anything before the parties sign it.”
The process of mediation itself, can sometimes turn couples from a path of constant fighting, to one of working together toward a common goal — the best interest of their children.
“If they’re able to work together, it helps them go from an adversarial to a cooperative process,” Tenschert said.
So far this year, Tenschert has worked on 28 mediation cases, with a caseload that is increasing. She said while some mediators have a background in psychology, she chose to attend law school, with the goal of performing mediation work.
The court does not charge a fee for the mediation service, and Tenschert said what happens in the mediation room is confidential, not even to be shared with the judge or magistrate on the case, in most instances.
“There are only certain things I can report to the magistrate about, such as attendance, whether or not a mediation occurred, and whether or not there’s been an agreement reached,” Tenschert explained.
“I can’t talk to them about the details of the case, with only a few exceptions, including to report child abuse,” she said.
With the high cost of battling a case out in court with attorneys’ fees on both sides, mediating a case can save both parties a considerable amount of money, and the court a great deal of time on the docket.
But the ultimate goal Tenschert and the courts work toward, is a better outcome for families, with less conflict and more cooperation.
“If the parents can come out of the conflict sooner, and get out of the adversarial, the better it is for the kids because the conflict isn’t good for them,” said Tenschert.