Divorce Court began as a dramatized court show in 1957, but later and presently is an arbitration-based reality court show. The program is nontraditional within the judicial genre as it only resolves the disputes of couples facing the end of their relationship. It has been presided over by many television personalities, currently former Cleveland Heights Municipal Court Judge Lynn Toler. Divorce Court is now produced by Lincolnwood Drive, Inc. and distributed by Twentieth Television.
Divorce Court is the longest-running program in the legal courtroom genre, and of the shows now airing in the genre, is the oldest. It has been revived more than any other court show: the series has lived three lives in first-run syndication: from 1957 to 1969, from 1985 to 1992, and since 1999. It has had four different “judges,” most of which presided in different lives of the show, though 2 presided separately within the same life of the show. Unlike the show’s previous lives which portrayed standard court cases with opening and closing arguments and attorneys representing the litigants, litigants defend themselves in the present life of the show, which is similar to most current court shows.
The show’s earliest life was dramatized and scripted. It had a total of 12 seasons, lasting from 1957 to 1969. During that life, Voltaire Perkins played the role of the judge, with Colin Male playing the role of courtroom announcer. The show’s 2nd life, lasting 7 seasons, debuted over a decade later in the spring of 1985. This life began with the show’s 13th season. It was scripted and William B. Keene played the role of the judge (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). Former game show host Jim Peck played the role of courtroom reporter and announcer, but was later replaced by former Scarecrow and Mrs. King star Martha Smith near the ending of this life of the show. This life of Divorce Court lasted until 1992, bringing the show to an overall 19 seasons. After that, the show was once again cancelled, with reruns airing on the USA Network during the early 1990s.
Currently, Judge Lynn Toler presides over the courtroom. Divorce Court is in its 17th season.