Divorce Court: Wikis


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Divorce Court is a judge show about cases which only involve divorcing couples. Out of the shows currently airing in the court-themed genre, Divorce Court is the oldest. The series has lived three lives in syndication, from 1957 to 1969, from 1985 to 1992 and currently since 1999.

The earliest version had a total of twelve seasons, running from 1957 to 1969, with Judge Voltaire Perkins presiding and Colin Male as the courtroom announcer. A second version debuted in the spring of 1985, with Judge William B. Keene deciding cases and Jim Peck, the former game show host as the courtroom reporter and announcer; this version ran for seven seasons until 1992. Judge Keene was the presiding judge at the murder trial of Charles Manson from December 1969 to April 1970 when he was replaced due to a motion of prejudice filed by Manson and was accepted by Judge Keene.[1] The current version began in 1999, featuring Judge Mablean Ephriam from 1999 to 2006, and Judge Lynn Toler beginning in September 2006. Altogether, Divorce Court has had a total of twenty-nine seasons and is the longest-running court show. It has also more judges than any other court show, and has been revived more than any other court show.



1957-69 and 1985-92 versions

While touted as presenting real cases to television audiences, the stories from earlier versions of Divorce Court were actually 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.

Many of the stories had standard marital issues: mental and/or physical abuse, adultery, desertion and other irreconcilable differences. As with most courtroom-based television programs through the ages (and to keep audiences interested), the stories were hardly the sort of the unloved wife's affair with the milkman or the husband's meddlesome mother interfering with and ultimately ruining the marriage. Rather, Divorce Court tended to present more sensational cases with "shock value." Some examples include:

  • A father who deliberately involved his children in "accidents" so he could collect on the insurance. He would pay them off by offering them presents and other rewards.
  • The woman who hosted male-stripper parties overnight while her husband was "working late" and suspected of having an affair of his own.
  • A couple who hosted a family-oriented television talk show which, through the husband's efforts, eventually degenerates into a sleazy, Jerry Springer-type show.

Sometimes, the judge would interview minor children involved in cases where child custody was an issue.

Divorce Court was one of the first television programs to explore serious issues, including racism, alcohol and drug abuse, war, cancer, grief, pornography, gambling and incest, to name a few.

During the latter seasons of the 1985-92 version, some divorce proceedings were played out over multiple shows, as though it were a major criminal trial. Some litigants spent a majority of a show on the witness stand (rather than the usual five-minutes of testimony and one-minute cross-examination). The court reporters sometimes interviewed the litigants prior to each show. On some episodes, one or both of the attorneys would be portrayed by actors and become part of the show's plot (for example, one 1992 episode had a subplot where a litigant was sleeping with her attorney).

Occasionally, higher-profile cases would involve celebrities portraying themselves, for example Charles Nelson Reilly starred as himself in a 1989 episode.

Current version (1999-present)

Divorce Court was revamped for a twentieth season, after its first run of twelve seasons and its second run of seven seasons. The current version of Divorce Court, entering its eleventh season in fall 2009, is markedly different from its predecessors.

For instance, real couples - who had previously filed for divorce - argue their cases before the court; one was presented each day. Most cases involved betrayal, infidelity and trust-related issues.

After both sides had presented their arguments, the judge ruled. 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.

In 2006, the show was renewed for an eighth season; however, Judge Mablean Ephriam and 20th Television were unable to come to terms on a contract extension. During her many years presiding over Divorce Court, Mablean Ephraim was very humorous, mainly because of her noticeably quirky voice and shocked reactions to the litigant's outrageous behavior.

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. [1]

The bailiff in this current version is Sgt. Joseph Catalano, a former 30-year veteran of the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department(California), He retired in 2008. His son, Joe, Jr. (also a deputy w/ that agency) was assigned to the Barstow regional station, but since the series was gaining popularity, he was re-assigned to an undisclosed location for his safety. Joe, Jr. was the bailiff on Power of Attorney during its run.

Both shows were produced in the same studio in Burbank, CA. However, the flag of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is displayed behind the bench alongside the U.S. flag during shows aired in January 2009. The show now tapes in Hollywood, CA.

The announcer since the current show's inception has been Jimmy Hodson, who is also a successful voiceover actor for FSN, Fox Sports and Fox Soccer Channel. He also narrates movie trailers, commercials and documentaries and was the on camera host and creator of two national music video shows, Real Videos from 1984-6, and Videosyncrasy from 1990-1991. He was also Magic Johnson's announcer and comedy cast member on The Magic Hour in 1998.

Mark Koberg took over as Executive Producer in 2007, and Angela Smith was appointed Senior Supervising Producer.

Diondra Bolling and Lori Read serve at the series Senior Producers. While Tamika Blaize is the Coordinating Producer; with Christal Ransom, Sybil Curry and Martha Owens serving as Producers. While Wendy Saatjian serves as booking producer. Every episode has been directed by Steve Grant.

Associate producers are: Quincy Thomas, Gerald Jones, Kelly Green, Tiffany Baker, Joel Sturdivant, Michelle Barnard, Aziza Taylor.

Episode Status

The current episodes of the Toler version are original syndicated shows. However, repeats of the 1st Toler season(2006-07) are on the Fox Reality Channel. Various episodes of the Epriham version are being broadcast on TV One and TV One on Demand.


  1. ^ Charles Manson Trial Timeline. CharlieManson.com. Retrieved 30 April 2008.

External links

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