All Rise for the Honorable New ‘Divorce Court’ Judge Faith Jenkins
There is a new judge presiding over Divorce Court this season. After 13 years, Lynn Toler passed on the gavel to Faith Jenkins, who knows that with great power comes great responsibility. The syndicated series entered season 22 in August, building on its legacy as the longest-running program in the legal courtroom genre dating all the way back to the first incarnation in 1957.
Jenkins, who graduated first in her class at Southern University Law School, might be a familiar face as a legal commentator for cable news across the board. The former Miss Louisiana and Miss America runner-up also brings her own courtroom TV cred thanks to Judge Faith, which ran in syndication for four seasons.
“I jumped at the opportunity,” Jenkins said, recalling when Fox reached out about Divorce Court at the beginning of the year. “This is a show I remember watching when Judge Maybelline [Ephraim] was on. I think I was in law school at the time and watched it everyday back then.
“Never imagined that being a judge on TV would be part of my journey; certainly not Divorce Court. You never know where your journey is going to take you. It has been an amazing experience.”
With a number of cases already under her belt, we approached the bench for our own line of questioning for the judge.
How did COVID-19 affect production leading into your first show?
Faith Jenkins: We didn’t know if we were going to film in our studio at all when COVID happened. They were deciding we would go all virtual. Then I think as time went on and testing for COVID started developing and these labs started doing more testing. There were more resources to test the staff, litigants and everyone.
So, they made the decision about what the protocols would be. We would not have an audience the entire season. We would test the litigants before they would come to the show.
Everyone on staff is tested twice a week when we’re taping. There are only a certain number of staff members allowed on set. We’re operating on a skeletal crew. We’ve condensed the weeks we’re taping. I live in California now and fly to Atlanta for tapings. Some of the protocols in place like flying in quarantine for 48 hours and test.
It has evolved over the summer as I think people have gained more knowledge about COVID and make sure everyone is safe. It has been really good for us. We haven’t had any breakouts or any issues. Everyone on set wears masks, except for me and the bailiff on set. There are breaks designed for people to have time to take the masks off. The protocols have worked for us.
Have you had any conversations with Lynn since you’ve joined the show?
I haven’t talked to her directly. When the announcement was made, she released a video on her social media. She offered me some wonderfully encouraging words. It was very gracious. She was very kind. She said she watched me on my prior show and knew who I was. She felt I would take Divorce Court to the next level. Hearing those words from her meant a lot to me because it’s not easy coming in on a show. Something so new and different.
This is not a show with a lot of change in terms of the judge. There is pressure I think coming in because your predecessors have been pretty incredible. There is a reason the show has been on for 22 years. That meant a lot to me. It was definitely a confidence boost for me. Knowing I can do the job because I’ve done it before. Knowing you are coming in where the precedent and bar has been set so high. You put pressure on yourself. It’s a healthy pressure because you want to be good. You want to do a good job because these are real cases with real people. You want to continue to have an impact.
How do you compare the atmosphere of Divorce Court with Judge Faith?
Divorce Court is more of an emotionally charged show. With Judge Faith, it was all small claims cases. We have some of that with Divorce Court. But with small claims cases, they can be strangers. They may have bought a used car that turned out to be a lemon and want to sue each other. The emotion comes from a different place. As long as they get their $500, they’re good. On Divorce Court, someone could be suing for $500. But you’re also talking about seven years of a relationship that’s also unraveling. This show we’re talking about relationships that are suffering and faced a tremendous amount of adversity. Sometimes broken relationships can’t be mended.
What people realize coming on the show is seeing a dysfunctional relationship, mending a relationship would mean accepting less than what you deserve. Every case there is has such a high emotional equivalent to it. It’s a lot because you’re dealing with hurt, anger. We laugh and have our funny moments. We have our entertaining moments, but when you peel back the layers for some of these cases. It’s a lot of hurting people. It’s interesting hearing how people define love and what they do and tolerate in the name of love. It’s really eye-opening.
You got married in March, and now you’re on a show called Divorce Court.
Starting a marriage the same year you’re starting on a show called Divorce Court. There is some irony in that. I think it helped me out tremendously when it comes to giving advice, especially to my couples. I have couples who have come in at 22 and been married for three years. They are so young and inexperienced in life, yet they have all this responsibility. What’s so interesting to me is being in such an amazing, happy, marriage. People will say we’re newlyweds and supposed to be. But I waited a long time and dated a long time. When I got married, I really got it right.
Everything within the foundation I set for myself. I really believed I achieved that. So going in on this show, I have this personal perspective as well. I didn’t always get it right. It didn’t end up in divorce because those relationships ended before I made my decision to marry.
All those decisions led me to that point where I believe I got it right. I can go in and talk to these people and say, “It does get better for you.” The truth sometimes hurt. The lies they tell themselves for comfort. Only one of those things shall set you free. My goal is with every case to tell the truth. Straight up, no chaser. Get to the bottom line because I may be the only person they encounter who has the courage to do that.
Couples are spending a lot more time together at home because of this pandemic, which can exacerbate a lot of problems within a marriage. What kind of advice do you have for these relationships?
That’s a great question because you see that in so many relationship those back patterns in front of us. So many things have come to light because the couples are spending so much time together. People can’t hide behind their busy jobs. They can’t hide behind these busy schedules anymore. They are faced with a lot of soul searching and reflection during this time period. They are figuring out what really works for them in their life. For many of them, they are in this relationship for a number of years and are skating, coasting.
We had direct issues, in addition to people just feeling the pressure of the relationship. This isn’t a vacation. A lot of people are off work, unemployed and finding ways to make money. There is all this pressure and stress adding to this time in people’s lives we’ve never experienced before. Everyone is navigating this space and new world. I tell people this is not the time to try to solve all your relationship issues. This is not the time to sit down and discuss everything that has gone wrong for the past seven years. Got to get through it.
What can viewers expect for the rest of the season?
We have some amazing cases coming up. We see a little bit of everything. We see a lot of couples who are figuring things out and who are learning they aren’t starting from scratch again. They have this experience now. You’re seeing some interesting patterns. People have gotten really creative with technology and social media. I have a lot of private investigators. The tracking devices with the apps. Someone told me they ordered spy glasses off Amazon where they’re able to record with their phone. It’s amazing. I have my own set of CSI cases that you’ll see on the show.
People will go through great lengths and be proactive to catch their significant others cheating. You’re going to see serious issues involving cheating and various forms of infidelity.
I think another question you’re going to see a lot of because of people being home and technology and social media, how people define cheating has evolved. There are a lot of people out there who feel because they are not seeing someone and not physically in someone’s presence, it can go all the way up in the lying and types of communication. As long as they don’t cross further, they think it’s not cheating.
It’s a variety. There is a reason this show has been on for so long — people are always going to be navigating relationships. It’s human nature. We like companionship.
Divorce Court airs in syndication.