|Genre||Nontraditional court show|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||38|
|No. of episodes||5,767+|
|Running time||20-22 minutes|
|Production company||Lincolnwood Productions|
|Distributor||20th Television (1999-2019)|
Fox First Run (2019-present)
CBS Media Ventures
|Original release||1957–1962 (5 seasons)|
1967–1969 (2 seasons)
1984–1993 (9 seasons)
present (22 seasons)
Divorce Court is an American court show that revolves around settling the disputes of couples going through divorces. The current edition of Divorce Court premiered on September 13, 1999. As of August 24, 2020, the presiding judge is Faith Jenkins.
Each edition of Divorce Court has aired in syndication, and with a total of 38 seasons spread across its 4 incarnations as of the 2020-21 television year, it is one of the longest-running syndicated television programs of all time. Divorce Court holds the record for the longest-running court show of all time, leading the second-place show The People's Court by 2 years. Due to repetitious cancellations and casting changes to the judge's seat, however, Divorce Court does not boast the longest individual series run or longest arbitrator in the court show genre, those records held by Judge Judy.
Prior to the premiere of the currently running version, all of the previous incarnations of Divorce Court were presented in the form of reenactments of real-life divorce cases. When series was revived, it took the form of a reality arbitration based format. The 16th season, which began the show's fourth and present life of the series, debuted in September 1999. By that time, court shows across the board had made a transition to a format involving former judges or attorneys legitimately arbitrating over actual small claims cases, a trend first introduced by The People's Court and heavily popularized by the ratings success of Judge Judy. Following its counterparts, Divorce Court was reformatted accordingly.
1957–62, 1967–69 and 1984–92 versions
While touted as presenting real cases to television audiences, the stories from earlier versions of Divorce Court were actually dramatized, scripted reenactments of divorce cases presented by actors. Actors portrayed the lawsuit – the plaintiff, who initiated the divorce proceedings; the defendant, who either sought a conflict resolution or sought a divorce decree of his/her own; and a number of witnesses, who testified on behalf of one of the litigants. Meanwhile, student attorneys would argue the cases.
Each episode followed a basic formula, as follows:
- Each attorney giving opening statements.
- The litigants, along with one or two supporting witnesses, giving their side of the story and enduring cross-examination.
- Closing arguments.
- The judge's decision, followed by appropriate reactions by each side.
Voltaire Perkins eras (1957-1962, 1967-1969)
The first Divorce Court incarnation began airing in 1957 and ran for 5 seasons until 1962, to be revived in 1967 for an additional two-season run. The first two versions starred actor Voltaire Perkins in the role of the jurist, with Colin Male as the court reporter. In its first year, Divorce Court aired locally in Los Angeles on independent station KTTV as a weekly, live, one-hour program. In 1958, KTTV began recording Divorce Court on Ampex videotape and syndicated the program nationally. Production resumed in the fall of 1967 following a five-year hiatus, this time as a half-hour daily series recorded in color. This second series of Divorce Court ended in 1969, though reruns continued to be offered to some stations throughout the early 1970s.
William B. Keene (1984-1993)
A revival began in 1984 and featured retired Supreme Court of California judge William B. Keene as the presiding jurist and former game show host Jim Peck as court reporter (replaced in 1989 by former Scarecrow and Mrs. King star Martha Smith). This edition ran until 1992 for a total of 9 seasons, with reruns airing on the USA Network during the early 1990s.
Current version (1999–present)
The 4th installment and current edition of Divorce Court which premiered in the fall of 1999 has a very different setup from its predecessor editions. Real couples–who had previously filed for divorce–argue their cases before the court; one case presented for each episode. After both sides present their arguments, the judge rules in favor of one side. The judge's decision includes finding in favor of one of the litigants (or, more often than not, declaring a joint decree) and resolving issues such as alimony and asset division. The judge's decisions are legally binding. As such, the modern version of Divorce Court is essentially a form of binding-arbitration in the manner of many modern day courtroom programs. In some instances, the judge may withhold a decision to give the couple ample time to consider a reconciliation. Occasionally, the show revisits a case from a past episode where time to explore reconciliation was offered in order to determine if the delay either remedied or worsened the marriage. Social media segments involving viewer reactions and polls have also been incorporated this installment of the series.
Mablean Ephriam era (1999-2006)
When the current version of Divorce Court was resurrected for a 17th season in the fall of 1999, former Los Angeles Prosecuting Attorney Mablean Ephriam was featured as the show's presiding judge. Notable in her judgeship over the series, Ephriam was the show's first African American and first female jurist.
Ephriam presided over this life of Divorce Court for 7 years, from the 1999–00 season through the 2005–06 season, her tenure coming to an abrupt and unexpected end over a failure to come to terms in contract negotiations for an 8th season of the current installment. As part of the terms of the contract, Ephriam stated that she was forbade from changing her hairstyle for the entirety of that following season, that the network reasoned that her hairstyles were too time-consuming for their hair and makeup team. In a press release statement over the matters, Ephriam stated, "When will FOX and the rest of America accept our cultural differences as African Americans and embrace us with all of our different hairstyles, hair textures, hair color."
During her 7 year judgeship over the program, Mablean was known for her quirky voice, and reactions of amusement and appall over the accounts of outrageous behavior by the litigants.
Lynn Toler era (2006-2020)
Lynn Toler, a former judge in Cleveland Heights, Ohio (and also former judge of previously cancelled series Power of Attorney in the series' last half season) took over the bench for the 8th season of the show's current installment, which premiered September 11, 2006.
Toler would eventually become Divorce Court's longest reigning judge—not only over the current edition of the program—but the overall 35-plus-year-old series as a whole, presiding over the broadcast for 14 seasons. Toler's final season presiding over the program was in the present edition's 21st season, during the 2019-20 television year.
It was during that season that Toler took objection to what she described as a hostile, unfriendly atmosphere coming from the network and production. In addition, Toler cited discontentment with an assortment of management decisions brought on her and the program by production. Among those decisions were in the show's set design, the program no longer taking the appearance of an average American courtroom by the show's 21st season and Toler citing physical discomfort in presiding from the judge's bench. For these reasons, Toler elected to resign her presidency over Divorce Court once her 14th season with the show completed, expressing grace over the opportunity she had to preside over the show for her tenure.
In her judgeship over the series, Toler was noted for her distinctively strident voice timbre. Level-headed and consultative, Toler imparted counsel, words of wisdom, and an effort to talk sense into the show's outrageous litigants.
Faith Jenkins era (2020-present)
For the 2020–21 television year and current edition's 22nd season, former New York City prosecutor and former arbitrator over own court show for four years, Faith Jenkins would took command as judge over the series, replacing Toler. In November 2020, the series was renewed for two additional seasons, through the 2022–23 season.
The current edition of the series has had 4 announcers during its run. The first announcer was Jimmy Hodson, who served from the beginning of the current run in 1999 until 2011 when Hodson was replaced by Inger Tutor for one season (2011-2012). Tutor was succeeded by Talon Beeson in 2012, who lasted 2 seasons (2012-2014). Rolonda Watts (who was formerly with Judge Joe Brown from 2005 until 2013) succeeded Beeson as the show's announcer starting in the 2014-15 season.
The show was previously recorded at Sunset Bronson Studios in Los Angeles. Currently, it is taped in Studio C at the studios of Georgia Public Broadcasting complex in Atlanta in exchange for film industry in Georgia. Recently, they taped at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta. Following the completion of the acquisition of 21st Century Fox by Disney in March 2019, distribution of Divorce Court transferred to a new division of Fox Television Stations known as Fox First Run with ad sales handled by CBS Television Distribution.
- Hyatt, Wesley (1997). The Encyclopedia of Daytime Television. Watson-Guptill Publications. p. 127. ISBN 978-0823083152. Retrieved 22 March 2020.
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-  Archived March 12, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
- "Judge Lynn Toler Was a Staple of 'Divorce Court' so Where Did She Go?". Distractify. 2020-04-24.
- "Lynn Toler on why she's leaving 'Divorce Court' and whether this pandemic will lead to more domestic violence and divorce". TheAtlantaConstitution. 2021-04-12.
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