Lynn Toler, the judge on TV's Divorce Court, sometimes feels like she has seen it all. "A couple will walk in and start to talk and I'll know where exactly it's heading," she says. Yet the former municipal court judge from Cleveland Heights, Ohio, refuses to let herself take these cases for granted. "I know this can be a silly, voyeuristic show," says Toler, who has been on the Divorce Court bench since 2006. "But I also meet people who tell me, 'I saw the show and what you said to that couple really made me think. Your advice really helped us in our marriage.' It makes my day when I see proof that this can be an instructive and not a destructive half-hour of television." Toler was in Dallas last month to promote the new season of Divorce Court (2 p.m. weekdays on KDFW/Channel 4) and to chat about her new book, Making Marriage Work (Agate Publishing, $15.95).
1 How much of Divorce Court is real and how much is showbiz?
All of the couples are real. We caught three couples faking the year before last and we scratched the shows. They faked it just to be on TV and to get a free trip to L.A. So the people are very, very real.
We don't ask people to come on the show if they're quiet and retiring, because that's not a good show. We want them to be energetic and lively, but we don't tell them what to do. And they never know what I'm going to do. Not even my producers know that. It's as real as it can be, just with the volume turned up a little bit.
2 That's an interesting turn of phrase, because your show seems to involve less yelling than most daytime courtroom shows. Is that something you aim for?
They still holler more than I like. But if it becomes a circus, then no one can be heard. And that accomplishes nothing. In fact, in this new season that I'm shooting, they're going to be hollering even less.
3 You've written a book aimed at saving marriages. Are you trying to put yourself out of business?
I don't think there's any danger of that happening. We're not going to run out of divorces.
4 What compelled you to write the book?
The reason I wrote this book is that my husband and I weren't getting along. I couldn't figure out what was wrong. Then I saw a few couples on the show and their problems were the same as ours. So I took the advice that I gave them and I brought it home. And it worked. It took us 18 months to turn it around, but we did it. And I thought, 'If Divorce Court can teach me something, maybe it can be helpful to others.'
5 Do you miss handling cases in a real courtroom?
This is so much easier than my real judge job. My husband used to call me the Night Stalker, because I would be up all night pacing and replaying cases in my head, asking myself, 'Did I sentence him correctly?' It's much more relaxing in Divorce Court, because these couples come on the show because they want to.
-- David Martindale,
Special to the Star-Telegram