Lynn Toler's heard about a lot of wild nights in her line of work.
She's been the judge on TV's Divorce Court for 10 years and presides over more than 160 cases annually.
"We once had a wife who slept with the best man instead of the groom on the wedding night," said Toler, 57, who has been a judge for 20 years. "They were married for 90 days and I was shocked they lasted that long."
This weekend, she'll take part in the last wild night of Gasparilla season — the Sant' Yago Illuminated Knight Parade in Ybor City. It'll be her first time participating in a parade since she was elected judge in Cleveland, Ohio.
"That was just 10 cars and two bands," she laughed during a recent phone interview with the Times. "This will be my first time in a real parade."
The Harvard and University of Pennsylvania educated judge will be the guest of Mor-TV, a parade sponsor that has brought past grand marshals from its show lineup including Jerry Springer and Steve Wilkos. We talked to the professional breakup mediator about love in the 21st century and how she's managed to stay married for 26 years.
Do you still believe in love given all you've seen?
Absolutely, I believe in love. But love is not what everyone thinks it is. It's a great thing but a little logic has to come once the love settles in.
You're a pretty educated lady. Did you ever look around and wonder "why am I doing this?"
I haven't asked "Why am I doing this?" because I always get a check, so I know why. But there have been times where I have told people "I don't know who you are or where they found you –what street corner they picked you up on -- but they must have told you Judge Toler hasn't had a rough enough day." I have actually told them to get out.
What's the No. 1 factor for the breakups you see in your courtroom?
These days … it's social media by far. It's too easy to cheat and cheat light. … You don't have to leave the house to get a wink here and smile there and next thing you know you're popping out a boob. It becomes a thing. And when you become entangled with other people emotionally, it's a problem. Then you have folks out here breaking passcodes and checking cellphones. I rarely have a case where at least one issue with social media is not raised.
How did you become the judge on Divorce Court?
I was a sitting judge in Cleveland and I got a phone call and laughed like, "Haha very funny." When I went out to talk to them, I'd been a judge for almost a decade. I thought of it as a risky thing and if it hadn't been for my husband I might not have done it. He told me, "How often to do you get handed something like this where you can have fun and work 30 days a year?" I basically became a stay-at-home mom. It was 30 days then, now it's only 16. I got it down to an art. We'll hear 10 to 11 cases per day.
What do you do with other 349 days?
I had to learn some things to do because my husband is retired (from accounting) so we were at home getting on each other's nerves. I took up tennis and painting. I've written two books and am working on a third book. I'm a board member of the nonprofit gopurple.org, which goes into schools to educate young women on healthy relationships and domestic violence. It's a seven week course and I raise money for that as well. So I stay busy.
What makes a good marriage?
A couple of things make a good marriage. You really have to learn to talk about it and don't make assumptions. It's not always good but you've got to be committed to the cause even when it's not good. When you're not talking about it and you just want it to good enough to continue you can't just live with it. We even see a marriage counselor from time to time to keep us on the same page. We even went to counselor before we got married. I've been married for 27 years this April.
What are the hallmarks or red flags of a bad partner?
There are a lot of red flags. You have to look back on his past relationships and that doesn't mean going to talk to old girlfriends. You have to see how he treats his family and how he treats his mother. Other red flags are if he gets angry easily or blames other people for his mistakes. I'm saying he because I'm a woman but this goes for both men and women. And any kind of substance issues of any kind are red flags.
Is there anything about divorce law that you'd like to change?
Absolutely, the concept of alimony is antiquated and the way we look at it doesn't reflect the social and economic realities of modern day America. There are states with no fault divorces where the person who makes more money automatically has to pay alimony. And they should consider whether that alimony should be rehabilitative or permanent to reflect how we work these days. It's not just the stay at home moms anymore. A woman can be the primary breadwinner. So these old ideas don't reflect what we do today. I make more money than my husband.
Do you counsel most of your litigants to stay together or breakup?
I think more of them are trying to work things out. They come on not really interested in what they were suing for; they just want to be heard. Sometimes they'll say, 'I just wanted to hear what you had to say about this.' I'm known for giving good marital advice.
What's the best thing about being the judge of Divorce Court?
Every time somebody hits me up on Twitter and says, :You said this about this and it really helped me. This was happening in my relationship." I think, "Yup. This is worth it."