Divorce Court is an American nontraditional court show that revolves around settling the disputes of couples going through divorces. The current edition of Divorce Court premiered in September 1999, is conducted as an arbitration-based reality court show, and has been presided over by Lynn Toler since 2006. Beginning in fall 2020, the presiding judge will be Faith Jenkins.
|Genre||Nontraditional court show|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||36|
|No. of episodes||5,767|
|Running time||20-22 minutes|
|Production company(s)||Lincolnwood Productions|
|Distributor||Fox First Run|
CBS Television Distribution
Each edition of Divorce Court has aired in syndication, and with a total of thirty-five seasons spread across its three incarnations, 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 five years. Due to its number of temporary cancellations and varying arbitrators, however, Divorce Court does not boast the longest individual series run or longest arbitrator, 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 dramatic reenactments of real-life divorce cases.
The first Divorce Court series began airing in 1957 and ran 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.
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, with reruns airing on the USA Network during the early 1990s. When the reality-based current edition began in 1999, former Los Angeles prosecutor Mablean Ephriam was chosen to preside. Ephriam lasted until the end of the 2005–06 season when former Power of Attorney jurist Toler took over.
The twentieth season, which began the show's third and present version, debuted in September 1999, by which 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.
1957–69 and 1984–92 versionsEdit
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 litigants – the plaintiff, who initiated the divorce proceedings; the defendant, who either sought a reconciliation 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.
Current version (1999–present)Edit
Divorce Court was resurrected for a twentieth season in the fall of 1999. The current version of Divorce Court has a much different format from the original.
For instance, real couples – who had previously filed for divorce – argue their cases before the court; one was presented each day. After both sides present their arguments, the judge rules. Her 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 some instances, the judge may withhold a decision to give the couple ample time to consider a reconciliation. Occasionally, the show may revisit an episode where time to explore reconciliation was offered to determine if the delay remedied or worsened the marriage. Social media segments involving viewer reactions and polls are also a part of the show.
Lynn Toler, a former judge in Cleveland Heights, Ohio and judge of Power of Attorney in the series' last half season, took over the bench for the eighth season of Divorce Court, which premiered September 11, 2006.
For the 2020-21 season, Divorce Court announced that Faith Jenkins, a former New York City prosecutor who presided over her own court show for four years, would be joining the series to replace Toler.
The current version 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). As of the 2014-2015 season, Rolanda Watts (who was formerly with Judge Joe Brown from 2005 until 2013) is the show's current announcer.
The show was previously recorded at Sunset Bronson Studios in Los Angeles. Currently, it is taped at the Tyler Perry Studios complex in Atlanta in exchange for tax incentives from the state of Georgia. 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.
-  Archived March 12, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
- Andreeva, Nellie; N'Duka, Amanda (March 5, 2020). "Faith Jenkins Joins 'Divorce Court' As New Judge, Succeeding Long-Time Star Lynn Toler". Deadline. Retrieved March 5, 2020.
- Albiniak, Paige (November 13, 2019). "Fox Stations Renew '25 Words Or Less,' 'Divorce Court,' 'Dish Nation' for 2020-21 Season". Broadcasting & Cable. Retrieved January 14, 2020.
- Porter, Rick (November 6, 2019). "Fox, Warner Bros. Hope Syndicated TV Format Change Keeps Viewers Around". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved January 14, 2020.