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TV's 'Paternity Court': More than just a DNA results show

Judge Lauren Lake presides over TV's "Paternity Court."
The Lippin Group.

She may now be entrenched as the Presiding udge on “Paternity Court” but Lauren Lake was initially a little skeptical about participating in the show.

“Paternity Court” is a half-hour syndicated show that helps litigants resolve legal issues involving paternity using DNA results.

“When David Armour [the creator and Executive Producer of the show] came to me and told me that he wanted me to do this show, I was like, ‘hold on,’ admits Lake. “So he had to really explain it to me. We discussed how paternity has been handled on TV in the past, in a very sensationalized manner, and that no one was giving it a legal, responsible angle and that that’s what we wanted to do.”

After Lake considered the offer a bit more, she realized that the position seemed spot on with many aspects of her life. “I feel like this is perfect for me. It’s a culmination of all of my professional experience,” explains Lake. “For almost 20 years, I’ve worked as a relationship expert, a life coach, and a family law attorney. To be able to use all of those things to improve people’s lives is ideal.”

While many viewers might scoff at using such serious parental issues as the basis for a television show, Lake doesn’t hesitate to call those people out, saying, “These issues are playing out in our culture more that we really want to admit and they need to be addressed in a way that helps people move forward.”

She goes on to clarify the intent of the show, explaining, “We don’t just point out who the father is or isn’t, we work hard to understand who these people really are, and how they got here. We’re not just about the drama and the dysfunction and the reveal, we’re about the bigger moment. We ask the tough questions, like ‘what are you going to do now?’ We want them to leave thinking differently about the situation than when they came in.”

While the show doesn’t offer specific legal judgments, the parties do agree to non-binding mediation prior to appearing before Lake. “We’re not dealing with small claims; we’re dealing with real-life huge family issues. Our courtroom is a place where hopefully people can come and resolve those issues before they have to submit to the legal system,” says Lake.

The dramatic nature of the situation can take a toll on Lake. “Hearing these stories, I do sometimes I get overwhelmed with emotion, but this is the litigant’s time to really try to process their pain. I think to myself that people need me in this moment. They’ve come here to own the truth so I want to be strong for them and give them some solutions.”

Lake often has to keep her emotions in check when the final results are revealed. “I see so many men who have taken their responsibility seriously because they believe that they’re the father of this child, only to have to then have to give them the heartbreaking news that they’re not biologically related to the child. To see a grown man cry because he wanted to be a father and he’s not is just painful to watch. But then, I have to find a way to encourage him, if at all possible, to remain in that child’s life despite the fact that he’s not the father. It helps that I firmly believe that while it takes DNA to be a father, it really takes love to be a Daddy. We now know from our culture that families extend outside of biology so being related by DNA is not always the most important thing for everyone.”

If the result goes the other way and a man who’s not been involved in the child’s life turns out to be the father of that child, Lake takes a different approach, “I always encourage the men who are fathers to work something out with the mother, not only for the benefit of the child, but because now it really is a legal matter and the state will come after them for support. The goal is to get them to step up and do the right thing for everyone involved.”

Wanting to be clear about what does and doesn’t happen in her courtroom, Lake explains, “We certainly can’t give them all the answers, but we give them the tools to move forward. After the show, we send the litigants to a counselor and they can stay an hour or five hours, whatever they need. We also provide them with resources in their home state and then we follow up with them to see how they’re doing. This journey doesn’t end when the show ends. It’s really a lifelong journey.”

While a significant portion of the population will not find themselves in a situation which will warrant a trip to “Paternity Court,” Lake believes that the underlying concerns that are presented by people who appear on the show are actually quite common to everyone. “Even if you can’t relate specifically to the paternity issue, you can relate to the general issues that are discussed on our show. Like maybe you’re missing something in your life, or you’re hiding something, or you haven’t been truthful about something, or you’ve hurt someone in some way. Whatever it is, those themes are universal and on our show we really try to demonstrate that it’s never too late to own whatever it is that’s holding you back, to let it out and to begin again; to use the truth as a foundation to start over.”

Paternity Court airs in syndication. To find the show in your area, please visit the Paternity Court website here.

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