Q&A with Faith Jenkins, new “Divorce Court” judge

Faith Jenkins, new judge on "Divorce Court." CR: Divorce Court
Faith Jenkins, new judge on "Divorce Court." CR: Divorce Court

Credit: Divorce

Credit: Divorce

“Divorce Court’ is back this season with a modified look and a brand new judge.

Faith Jenkins has taken over for Lynn Toler, who left after 13 years, disagreeing with how the producers were creating the show. Jenkins, a former attorney and prosecutor, had her own syndicated judge show “Judge Faith” from 2014 to 2018.

“Divorce Court,” which is available on Hulu and airs daily at 3 p.m. and 2:30 a.m. on Fox 5 in Atlanta (check local listings for your city), has become a staple on the daytime circuit in a genre still dominated by “Judge Judy.” It entered its 22nd season this week. Jenkins is the third “Divorce Court” judge after Mablean Ephriam and Toler.

“Following in the footsteps of Judge Mablean and Judge Toler is an honor,” Jenkins said in an interview this week with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “These women represented the show well, and I hope to do the same.”

This season’s first 50 episodes were taped in late July into August at Georgia Public Broadcasting in Midtown. The set is smaller than the one Toler had at Tyler Perry Studios but the fixtures are comparable. Jenkins dons the traditional black robe; Toler for a time wore a black suit.

This season’s early run does not have a live audience, a concession to the pandemic. Instead, TVs of about 20 super fans from across the nation get to watch the proceedings.

Behind the scenes, Jenkins said there’s a COVID compliance officer on the scene, plenty of social distancing, a skeletal on-site crew and many key people doing their work remotely. All litigants are tested for the virus before going on the show and a couple of cases had to be dropped because people came up positive.

Based on her early episodes, Jenkins is kinder and gentler than Toler, less acerbic when castigating a husband Kenneth Gardner during an episode that aired this past Wednesday for sexting an ex-girlfriend. The wife Shay Gardner wants a divorce, noting how he belittles her weight while he complains she doesn’t give him the physical attention he needs. He said he’s building a business. She said she sees him sitting on the couch all day and does not want to have sex with someone that lazy.

Jenkins drills down to the core issue: she wants stability and kids. He isn’t ready for kids. “It’s your choice Mrs. Gardner,” Jenkins said. “Do you want to wait for him to be ready? You don’t want to get to a point in this relationship where you’re always fighting about something else... You are both lovely people with some real compatibility issues... If you can’t get past your differences, then you have a future elsewhere.”

The new set of "Divorce Court" for Faith Jenkins, shot at Georgia Public Broadcasting in Midtown Atlanta. Shay Garndner (left) of Tyler, Texas wants to divorce her husband Kenneth Gardner over cheating allegations. CR: Divorce Court
The new set of "Divorce Court" for Faith Jenkins, shot at Georgia Public Broadcasting in Midtown Atlanta. Shay Garndner (left) of Tyler, Texas wants to divorce her husband Kenneth Gardner over cheating allegations. CR: Divorce Court

Credit: Divorce Court

Credit: Divorce Court

In many ways, “Divorce Court” is quick-and-dirty marriage therapy with just a smidge of legal advice.

Jenkins noted that “the emotional element is higher than handling small-claims cases” as she did on “Judge Faith.” She will apply the law when there is a legal claim but it’s really more about “examining what people think about love and the things they tolerate and accept in the name of love.”

The quarantine has exacerbated issues for many couples who are now spending far more time together. She recalled a case where a gay couple broke up over the fact one - a social media influencer - kept breaking quarantine to feed his Instagram feed. Feeling unsafe, the other man moved out.

When the producers called Jenkins to replace Toler, she jumped at the chance. “I really wanted to get back into the court genre,” she said. Divorce “is a subject that will never get old. People are always trying to figure things out with their loved ones. People by human nature don’t want to be alone. As long as people are navigating these often murky waters, a show like this will remain relevant.”

Jenkins, 42, is a Louisiana native who graduated from Louisiana Tech University with a bachelor’s in political science and received her law degree at Southern University Law Center in Baton Rouge.

She worked a few years as an attorney in New York City, then as an assistant district attorney in Manhattan’s District Attorney’s office. She wanted to be on TV and managed to land legal commentary guest slots on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News during the George Zimmerman trial in 2013. She recalled doing both Bill O’Reilly and Al Sharpton’s shows on consecutive days. She said she always felt nervous but never appeared nervous.

This exposure led to her own judge show but it was canceled, she said, after the financier behind the production company decided to invest his money elsewhere.

Faith Jenkins during the seventh episode of season 22 of "Divorce Court," which aired August 27, 2020. CR: Divorce Court
Faith Jenkins during the seventh episode of season 22 of "Divorce Court," which aired August 27, 2020. CR: Divorce Court

Credit: Divorce Court

Credit: Divorce Court

Jenkins married R&B singer Kenny Lattimore in March the weekend before the entire country began shutting down.

“We had a normal wedding with a reception. We were touching and dancing and hugging,” she said. Fortunately, nobody at the wedding had COVID-19, and it was not a super-spreading event.

They went to a resort for a few days and when they returned, Los Angeles was in lockdown and the supermarkets were devoid of bananas, toilet paper and milk. “We hadn’t stocked up at all,” she said. “It was scary.”

She said Lattimore had been planning a big tour and would have been out of town for a lot of the spring and summer so the quarantine was a blessing for them to spend quality time right after the marriage. He even had time to record a new theme song for “Divorce Court.”

Jenkins said she has nothing but love for Toler, her predecessor. In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier this year, Toler expressed no bitterness over the split, saying it was just business. In fact, Toler recently posted a social media note telling her fans to give Jenkins a chance.

ExploreRELATED: Lynn Toler on why she’s leaving ‘Divorce Court’ and whether this pandemic will lead to more domestic violence and divorce

When Jenkins heard that, she said she got emotional: “She went through what I went through when Judge Mablean left. It was so beautiful to receive those words of encouragement and affirmation. I got tears in my eyes when I saw the message.”

ON TV IN ATLANTA

“Divorce Court,” 3 p.m. and 2:30 a.m. weekdays, Fox 5 (WAGA-TV)

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