Exclusive: Judge Lauren Lake Empowers Families Through DNA On “Paternity Court”



The concept of televised paternity testing and its outcome is taking a new turn. For years, we’ve seen an overabundance of  exploitation of dead-beat fathers and  mothers raising kids on their own. Even after the DNA  results determine a child’s birth parents, these shows never give viewers a broader picture of what happens from that point on. As viewers, we wonder if the lives of the kids and the parents were actually transformed. Is the father back in their kids life full-time?  Is the child being financially taken care of?  Are the families functioning properly now? These questions and many others often run through our minds. Well, finally daytime television is offering a law abiding-scientific (but therapeutic) solution to paternity issues. Some of these “unknowns” is now being answered. Also, families are receiving real life tools to assist them while transitioning into these new parental roles.


“Paternity Court”, which premiered on September 23, is revitalizing how DNA testing is used in the family dynamic. The appointed expert judge that is presiding over the dysfunction is Judge Lauren Lake.


We’ve seen Judge Lake make guest appearances on various television shows and news programs. Now, she’s putting her 20 years of professional experience in law and family counseling to the test. As judge on “Paternity Court”, Judge Lake has encountered a wide range of stories that she believes will change our perception of what a paternity show is.  To get a better understanding about the show, I recently got the opportunity to speak with Judge Lake.


During our phone conversation, I found out what viewers should expect from “Paternity Court” and what she plans to bring to the courtroom television that’s different from the norm. Check out what she had to say:


How will this show “Paternity Court” differ from the others?

We are very different. First of all, the obvious reason is because we are in a courtroom. So, right there, the decorum of our show is very different. As a judge, I’m running a courtroom and not a service. So, as people come in with amazing and incredible stories, and they have colorful personalities and their animated, I can appreciate an animated person…I am animated. I make it clear when I’m going to act a fool though. So, that entire basic set-up of our show is different. But where our show is different, most importantly, it adds the legal component into the paternity issue, which I don’t think we’ve seen yet. We not only answer people’s paternity questions in terms of the DNA science (“are you or are you not the father?”), but we also deal with issues of “are we siblings” – siblings-ship paternity tests. Is my deceased son the father of a particular child? Meaning, is this my grandchild.


We see so many shows and maybe their views are different when it comes to paternity, but people will be surprised at how many familiar legal cases involve an issue of paternity. So we are dealing with those types of cases as well. In addition to the legal component of our show, after they get the DNA evidence I talk with them about their legal rights and legal ramifications, further I empower them with that knowledge. Now that we know the truth, now that you understand how the law relates to that truth, what are you going to do with it? What are you going to do going forward? I don’t have people walk into my courtroom and I just give them an answer to just go on back to dysfunction. I want them lead my courtroom different than the way that they came in. If they came in lost or they came in with guilt, if they came in with shame or they came in with dysfunction, or they came in angry, then I want them to leave with a better understanding of those feelings and tools to move forward so that they can live a better life.


So it sounds like with “Paternity Court” we are going to see more compassion in comparison to other shows…

Absolutely! It’s about compassion. It’s about empathy. You’ll be surprised when you hear a young woman say my mother told me there could be 13 men that could be my father. You know, you hear the title and you say, “What?” That’s ridiculous. That’s ratchet. That’s unacceptable. But then you listen to the mother get to talk about that she didn’t know who her father was. Then you see the cycles are repeating themselves. When generational curses repeat themselves, they get worse not better. By the time the mother speaks, you may have started off thinking she’s a straight villain, and by the end of when she gets done or when I get done with my fact finding mission, you begin to understand how a human being that is lost can find themselves in an infallible situation. Even though it doesn’t “right” or “wrong”, you still have a better perspective of how she got there. Sometimes perspective is the missing piece that stops us from moving forward. Even when we have the truth, we need that perspective of the truth. In my courtroom I don’t know the answer either. So when I’m sitting up there, I’m asking people questions like “well wait a minute, why do you have doubt as to whether or not this child is yours?” Tell me, I don’t understand that. I’m honestly asking because I don’t know the results. I learn the results along with the party.


As the judge, you listen to both parties, what are the key factors you use to determine your ruling?

The main key factor that we deal with is the science. Our tagline is “She’s the judge, DNA is the jury.” We say that because in our courtroom the DNA is the jury. In a regular court of law, when there’s a judge and jury seated in the courtroom, the judge manages the court. But, the jury gives the decision. The judge can take the testimony but the jury is the one that gives the verdict. That’s how our courtroom works. I manage the courtroom. I ask the questions. But at the end of the day, it’s that DNA evidence; it’s that test that’s going to give us the verdict…which is the answer. Then from there, as when as judge of the court I am able to talk about the legal implications and responsibilities and then give them tools of empowerment to move forward.


Have you already started filming?

Yes. We are almost halfway done with the first season.


What are some of the other crazy cases that have been filmed thus far?

We got a case where a young man has thought he fathered the baby he grew up with for 30-something years, was his dad. He gets to a family picnic and overhears some murmuring that it may not be and he has to confront his mother. The reaction in the show is emotionally charged to say the least. It’s unbelievable. The feeling the pain of this young man is unbelievable. Sometimes I sit and I fight back tears even as the judge. They laugh at me because when I come off the bench and I close the door and I’m walking back to my chambers, I’m fanning myself with the case file. I fan my eyes because I’m trying not to mess up my makeup because I know we got to go into the next case. And I know this is a television show so I got to keep it together. But, I’m almost in tears with some of these cases.


Another shocking thing we had…a young child (ex-gang member) find out that he was a father and you see all of that armor, all of that fake bravado toughness it peels away throughout our show. The next thing you know this young man is standing there in tears and telling me about how he doesn’t even know how to be a father. He doesn’t know because he’s never seen one or had one. It almost broke me down just talking about it. So, it’s those kinds of situations where people walk into our courtroom. It’s a lesson to our culture because we judge books by their cover. People walked into our courtroom and we immediately put a label on him. He isn’t any good. He’s a deadbeat. He’s a villain. Sometimes you listen to the woman for a while and say “wait a minute” now you have had a part to play in the mess too. “Paternity Court” is not just about judging men. It’s about empowering families and identifying where both parties went wrong in a situation.


From the cases that you filmed this first season, do you see more cases where people are looking for the fathers or vice versa?

Surprisingly, we have seen a multitude of cases on various levels. We got cases where the actual child, which is now a grown adult, is looking to find out who their father is. We have questions where husbands and wives, as a litigant, and the husband is questioning the child that’s born within the marriage is his. Grandmothers coming and whose son has died. There is a child out there and they want to know is this my grandchild. We’ve had cases where young woman have terminal cancer, she just wants to know before she passes away is this my father. We have so many situations. We have mothers who are bringing their sons on talking about whether they are good fathers. It runs the gambit.


Is the taping based out of L.A.? Yes.


But, the guests come from all over the U.S…

Yes. Our litigants come from all over the country.


What was your deciding factor to become a television judge?

The deciding factor was the project. When my executive producer called me about this project, he said “Paternity Court.” Instantly I thought to myself, “oh okay, well what does that mean.” I know what it means, that we would bring paternity cases to court. But, I wanted to know further know what is this project about. When he sat down with me, he said he want to bring a responsible approach to paternity. I want it to be set in a courtroom setting and I want families to have a place where they can air out these paternity issues and receive the type of empowering information that they need. I believe you’re perfect for it. He’s watched me over the years as a legal analyst and as a life coach. He’s watched me do all of my various careers on television and things. So, he said I think you’re perfect for it because you can bring the legal aspect. But most importantly, you can bring the empowerment aspect.” That’s why I chose to do it. He allowed me to bring everything my 20 plus years of professional experience have taught me; advising and counseling people and families, individuals, teaching them how to live life limitlessly. Teaching them how to overcome obstacles and be courageous enough to begin again.


As much as people talk about people who get paternity results on television, on our show we are very courageous people that could just as easily stayed home and kept it a secret. It isn’t any part of TV worse than coming on and revealing your deepest darkest secret unless you can’t hold it anymore because you know it is destroying you.   What I love about our courtroom as well is we’re that last stop before a lot of people have to deal with the court system at large. To be honest, people can be overwhelmed by that. Financially draining, it’s exhausting, it’s stressful…people have to hire a lawyer then you have to take off work to go to court. So the court systems in our country, it’s overwhelming. We provide a place where families where: a) without the financial issue, b) the time frame is swifter. They are able to get their paternity test, get their answer, get the help they need from a psychologist that’s on site or the resources in their community that can help them further. Then what we do is hopefully help families so that they don’t have to go to the next step. I can go to a father and say it is determined that you are the father, which means you are now financially responsible for this child under the law. You can either voluntarily say you’re going to do it. Or when you go back to your home state, you can expect the state court will come looking for you and you will have to pay.


What I can encourage people to do is work this out between them. Sit down and talk about it. I tell fathers too, if it isn’t you and you find out that you are not the biological father, you are entitled to visitation. Not just under the law, but you’re morally obligated to this child. So we talk about so many things in our courtroom. We are able to address so many issues as it relates to families. As I said, it is help empower them and bring them together.


Can an individual who is over 18, go back and sue for unpaid child support?

Ok. Several times that has happened in our court already where the father did not know the child was theirs. They weren’t on the birth certificate. Sometimes the mother hadn’t even told the father. Other times the father just denied it. But there hasn’t been any DNA testing. At the point that the DNA test has come out and it’s confirmed that the child is his, yes, he is responsible for support for that child from that point forward. But, the majority of those cases are from the birth of the child. That’s not something that the jury of the court would compute. That is a state level issue within their own state. All states are different in terms of compute and handle the collection of child support. What I often tell the parties are its better and it’s possible to talk about it among themselves. Have that young woman add up how must does it cost. How much do I owe you? I often let people know if she states $7,800 thus far raising this child, and now it has been determined that the child is yours, it is my ruling that you owe her $3,600. I am able to give what I believe is a legal ramifications associated with this ruling. If the mother wants to move forward in her home state, that’s her right. It’s her call. What our show is non-binding mediation.


As far as other African-American female judges we’ve seen on television, have they paved the way for you? Do you think it is your job to continue to legacy? Or are you on the show trying to carve out your own lane?

I think this is definitely a show that was born that was certain shows that were successful in their own genres. We understand and appreciate that the court ruled daytime show is a powerful type of programming. We respect all of the judges that have come before us and what they brought to day time. In addition, we know that shows like “Maury” that address paternity have made paternity in the forefront of a lot of the viewer’s mind. However, I do believe paternity court is a new lane. It is a new approach to very important familiar issues. The combination of paternity in a courtroom setting is truly, as you’re going to see when you see the show, it is not just empowering for the litigants.   But, for the audience at-large, there are issues that all people will be able to relate to when they watch these litigants tell their stories. Even if you know who your father is and know who your mother is, you still relate when a mother-in-law is in the middle of her son and daughter-in-law’s marriage. She’s questioning whether or not do the child is really her son’s. That’s when I have to say you’re all the way out of your lane. You’re all up in theirs and that’s not acceptable.”


As a mother you have to learn how to step out of a situation. Even a viewer at home that may feel like, “oh I’ve never had a paternity issue in my family? I haven’t had anyone that’s had a paternity issue,” they can sit down and say yeah I can see that mother-in-law is a little overbearing. Or maybe I’ve had that situation before with a boyfriend or with a husband. Or maybe I’ve been that person. Maybe I’m a little overbearing in my son’s or my daughters relationship. So, I think people can relate to the family issues that are going on in the courtroom everyday they are relatable. I relate to almost every story. There is something about the story I can relate to.


What do you want the families or women in general to take away from it? Is there a bit of advice you want to give?

I want people to understand that family is our fundamental building block. It is where we all launched. The simple premise of knowing who you belong to, knowing who your mother is, knowing who your father is, knowing who loves you unconditionally, knowing who you belong to, it’s some people take it for granted every day. I know I do. We have to recognize that there are lots of people in this country that are missing that puzzle piece. That missing puzzle piece is causing damage to their spirit, to their soul, to the way they move forward in life. It is affecting their relationships. It is affecting their ability to process disappointment, treatment, and breakups. It’s affecting so many things. Ultimately, I want people to understand that we all have a responsibility if we truly want to live our best lives – to get together that courage. To face the truth of whatever it is we need to face the truth of. Then upon finding out that truth, make the decision that we’re going to be better for that truth. That we’re going to go forward in our lives now knowing what it is we need to know and empower ourselves to do better and to do more. That’s what I try to do each and every day in the courtroom. When people come in with shame and secrets, and doubt, miscommunication, anger, and dysfunction, we try to talk through it. I try to get people to dialogue and talk about it. You can’t change something that you don’t talk about.


For individuals who don’t want to go on television to share their stories, what can they do if they are in that predicament and want to find out who the father is?

Absolutely, everybody is not going to want to come on “Paternity Court.” We of course have advertisements and if you need or want help through this court, you can call our number and reach out to us. But for those people who don’t want to do that, what I think our show serves is, as encouragement to do something. There are various ways that you can go. There are home kits. There are various ways that you can execute paternity testing nowadays. The most important thing is getting yourself to the point that you’re ready to know the truth. And knowing that that test and the answer to that test could be the catalyst for you to be able to strip yourself of the shame and guilt and the secret and to be able to move forward. Also, for some people who are not even at the point where they can even take a test, some people out here they don’t know their father. They don’t even have anyone to test, you understand. This is where a lot of young people are in this country. I think the show serves as encouragement that your seeking out your truth is important and to never let anyone minimize it. Never stop looking, never stop trying and to not give up.



For information on show dates, times, and channels, go to www.Facebook.com/paternitycourt or www.paternitycourt.tv.