While the name might convey that it’s all about finding out who a child’s father really is, the show “Paternity Court” is about so much more, according to the woman who oversees all of the action.
Lauren Lake, who acts as presiding Judge on the show, is no stranger to laying down the law having earned her law degree at Wayne State University after completing her undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan. She chose family law after volunteering at a free legal aide clinic in Detroit during which time she handled a lot of domestic situations.
Her extensive background in this specialty certainly informs her ability to help people navigate all of legalities involved in paternity issues, but she insists that it’s really her personal life that has provided the most critical part of her ability to be effective on the show.
“I’m so thankful for my family because I think it’s really because of them that I can be a judge and be so helpful. I have a very strong family and am very connected with my own father so I don’t just take my knowledge of the law into that courtroom, I take the knowledge of what family and true parenthood really is and what it should be, especially for the children involved in these situations.
The litigants on the show each come in with their own tale of why they’ve resorted to this venue to try to resolve the unanswered questions that plague them and this is where Lake’s empathy is clearly evident.
“What I understand is that people are coming into that courtroom carrying some level of secret, shame, or dysfunction and it’s very difficult for them to really tell their story,” explains Lake. “I’m helping people try to figure out how to get themselves out of the mess they find themselves in. Every story is real and raw and different. The beauty of what we do is that we really try to help people overcome obstacles and difficulties and mistakes to try to be better mothers, fathers and families.”
Even though her background is in family court, there are a few things about shepheding people through their personal family drama that have caught Lake by surprise.
“I’m amazed at how much of the dysfunction is originated by the women,” admits Lake. “When you hear the words ‘Paternity Court,’ you think this is going to be a show about ‘daddy bashing,’ but what you really often see is women who choose to lie to men, choose to live in denial about who they want to be their child’s father, or who they think their child’s father is. Then, when it’s revealed that the person they’ve claimed is a deadbeat, and they’ve bashed him for not taking care of the child and he turns out not to be the father, we know now that you’re lying and we know now that you dragged this man’s name through the dirt when you’re really the person that did the cheating.”
Lake has both a sense of humor and a no-nonsense approach to her role on the show. “I often joke that we’re doing both ‘Paternity Court’ and ‘Maternity Court’ because sometimes I have to scold the women saying, ‘You can lay down with as many men as you want, but only one can get you pregnant and while you’re looking at who the father might be, people are looking at you.’ I think as much as the show is about fatherhood it’s also about encouraging young women to really look at who they’re sleeping with and the choices that they’re making.”
Also surprising to Lake is the lack of knowledge about even the most basic elements of the law that she finds many people seem to have. “I’m shocked about how little people understand about the court system. You don’t have to be a scholar, but I find it really hard to believe that there are people who just don’t abide by what the court says. That seems so basic but yet it happens more than you think.”
As an example Lake tells the story of a man who paid a heavy price for simple mistake. “We had this case where we found out that this man was not the child’s father but he’d gone to jail for lack of support. But the real reason he was imprisoned was because he just tried to avoid dealing with the situation and he simply didn’t show up to court. He was a young kid and he was angry and he maintained that he wasn’t the father; that the woman was sleeping around. What he didn’t understand, and many people don’t, is that a man can be named a child’s father by default. A previously collected DNA sample can be used or there could be something else that leaves a man legally on the hook. This particular case was shocking because it could have all been avoided if he’d just shown up to court. What all of this means is that if the law calls, you answer.”
Lake is always eager to help, but she does draw the line when it comes to some behaviors in her courtroom. “I will not tolerate violence in any way in my courtroom,” she says sternly. “We had to escort a man from the courtroom once when I could see that things were getting out of hand,” she explains. “He was an ex-gang member who found out he had fathered three children and because of this, the one woman that he really loved had rejected him. You could see his whole demeanor change and he was getting all puffed up. I could just tell that he was on the verge of losing it so we moved him out of the room so that everyone could deal with the situation. It was absolutely the right thing to do and everything was worked out in a calm manner in the end.”
Presiding over these cases is not an easy thing for Lake even though she has plenty of on-camera experience giving her no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is advice and analysis to some of today’s most popular television programs including, “The View,” “Good Morning America,” “Today,” “CBS This Morning,” “Dr. Phil,” “Nancy Grace,” and “The O’Reilly Factor.” She’s also served as a guest host on MSNBC and Court TV.
But even all of these on-air appearances hasn’t prepared Lake for the most difficult part of her current job; delivering results. “What people don’t know is that I’m really reading the results for the first time as I announce those results to everyone involved. I do not have the results prior to reading them aloud,” explains Lake. “Now I’ve listened to these people and talked with them and I get the results at the same time they do. The moment that I see that the result is not favorable to the person standing in front of me and that it will break them down, I know I have to be prepared for the reaction that’s going to happen. To do that, I take a breath and figure out exactly how to phrase the results in the most sensitive way. Believe me it’s not easy.” Giving a example, Lake continues, “When I have to tell a mother that the man she really wants to be her child’s father is in fact not the father or I have to tell a man who’s loved and cared for a child that that child is not biologically his, these are very hard things to do no matter who you are or how much legal experience you have. This is about human nature and very emotional feelings.”
In the end, Lake relies on a guiding principle that helps her through the tough cases. “Paternity cases may seem to be about the adults involved but in reality, they’re about the children. The children are suffering when there’s no resolution, so that’s what we’re here for; to find the truth and understand the truth.”
The need to uncover the truth is the desire that draws people to participate in “Paternity Court” says Lake. “When you come to ‘Paternity Court’, they’re ready to know. They get to a point in their lives where they want to know. They’ve grown tired of denial and dysfunction and want to settle the matter once and for all. This is what brings them here. And, I know it’s a TV show and a lot of people say, ‘Why would they do this on a TV show?’ Well, paternity actions can be expensive and these are often people who don’t have the financial means to get a lawyer and pay court costs. I’m glad we can offer this alternative.”
Lake makes it clear that she believes that “Paternity Court” can have an effect on society in a positive way when she says, “I hope that people will see this is really about relationships gone bad and that we all just need to try to improve our relationships, but beyond that I hope people will be inspired to be better parents and realize that we need to invest in making our children’s lives as positive as possible. If we can do that, this won’t just be a television show, it will be a movement.”
As for her personal role in that movement, Lake adds, “I believe each of us is called to this Earth to play out a purpose and use our gifts. I’ve learned that some people need to reinvent themselves on a very basic level by speaking the truth and honoring the people in their lives with that truth. I want to keep pushing that agenda and I really feel I’m doing that. No matter how many times you get it wrong, it’s never too late to start trying to get it right. My goal is to be an example of how to live a truthful, limitless life and I think I’ve reached that target.”
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