Need to know: Attorney helps 'demystify' divorce process for clients

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News
The book could rate as required reading for couples contemplating divorce.

Written in 2014, the 163-page paperback will spawn a sequel later this year and “deconstructs the divorce process and serves it up in small, manageable steps,” according to its author, Birmingham attorney Henry Gornbein, a noted family law practitioner for nearly 50 years.

Gornbein’s book, titled “Divorce Demystified: Everything You Need to Know Before Filing for Divorce,” serves as a primer for those involved in a marital breakup. 

It explores the attendant “legal, economic, and psychological issues,” while also focusing on the “random routine, and often overlooked details — including the role of social media – that can propel divorce proceedings into a roller-coaster ride gone off the tracks,” said Gornbein, a partner in the firm of Lippitt O’Keefe Gornbein, PLLC.

A Detroit native and product of Mumford High School in the Motor City, Gornbein knows the pain of divorce firsthand after his first marriage ended 27 years ago. 

The “trauma and drama that surround divorce” have been magnified even more for him over the course of his legal career, which began following his graduation from the University of Michigan Law School in 1968.

“Next to losing someone you love, divorce is one of the most traumatic of life’s experiences,” Gornbein writes in his book. 

At the same time, he said, “it’s the path out of a bad marriage, and ideally for all parties, to a happier, more fulfilling life.”

Divorce is complicated, often messy, Gornbein added.

“It used to be that the wife got the children, the husband shelled out support, and de-coupling required a few signatures,” he said. “Not anymore. From social media and two-income families to pet parents and same-sex marriage, nearly every aspect of divorce has changed.”

Gornbein, who juggles between 40 to 50 cases at a time, admits “I have seen it all” over the course of his career as a divorce lawyer.

He has spent years dealing with the legal ramifications of couples whose lives have unraveled because of infidelity, gambling, domestic violence, drug addiction, etc.

“As a family law attorney for virtually my entire career, I have come across everything – and more,” says Gornbein, who earned his bachelor’s degree from Wayne State University.

“Let’s just say that there has been no shortage of interesting cases.”

Of recent vintage was a case that continues to attract national attention revolving around an Oakland County couple involved in a highly charged custody dispute. For Gornbein, the operative word in the preceding sentence is “was.”

“I was the first of 16 attorneys for the mother in the case,” explains Gornbein of the long-drawn court battle involving Maya Eibschitz-Tsimhoni and her former husband, Omer Tsimhoni. “Need I say more?”

Those now directly involved in the case would be wise to heed this piece of overall advice from Gornbein: “Arming yourself with knowledge, keeping a level head, putting your children first if you have them, and being smart about how you conduct yourself before, during, and after the divorce will help make this bad situation better.”

Easier said than done, of course, especially in emotionally fraught circumstances that seemingly are spiraling out of control for clients.

Which is why Gornbein was motivated to write his book as a means of providing the “tools and insights you’ll need to navigate the process.” It is but one step that he uses to “educate and guide the client through the legal system, to look for the best possible solution in each case, and to handle every case in a manner that leads toward healing and not needless confrontation or unnecessary court battles,” he says.

Gornbein also imparts his message through periodic columns appearing in The Huffington Post, a national online news source and blog site. Two of his most recent contributions were “Seventeen Thoughts for Valentine’s Day” and the politically provocative “Will the Trump Presidency Have Any Impact on Family Law?”

In addition, Gornbein is a podcaster for, and has lectured extensively for the Institute for Continuing Legal Education (ICLE) and the Family Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan. He formerly wrote columns for The Oakland Press and is a current contributor to the Michigan Family Law Journal.

Local cable TV watchers know him as the creator and host of the award winning show, “Practical Law,” a weekly program now in its 18th year. The show airs weekly on cable outlets in the Birmingham/Bloomfield Hills area, and features leading members of the legal community discussing matters of family law, the court system, criminal defense, and other topical issues. His guests have included U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, and such prominent personal injury attorneys as Geoffrey Fieger, Sam Bernstein, and Ven Johnson.

“I view the program as a great learning opportunity for the viewers as well as myself,” Gornbein says. “I always discover something interesting and intriguing that helps expand my knowledge.”

Gornbein comes by his smarts naturally. His parents, Abe and Lillian, were both school teachers. His father, who died several years ago, taught history and civics at Cody High School in Detroit. His mother took a different route to her role as an elementary school teacher in Oak Park.

“My mom and I went to college at Wayne State at the same time,” says Gornbein. “She didn’t have the opportunity to attend when she was young, but she always had the idea in the back of her mind when the time was right.”

Sadly, Gornbein’s mother died of cancer at age 49, but his father was fortunate enough to remarry three years later to a former WAC (Women’s Army Corps) in World War II who would be his loving mate for the next three decades.

“My stepmom (Reva) is now 96 and has been an incredibly positive force in my life,” says Gornbein. “She lives nearby and still plays bridge every week.”

Gornbein, who earned a scholarship from Wayne State to play the clarinet, dedicated his first book to his wife, Debra, a retired teacher. They share a love of travel, reading, theater, movies, and most especially, a family of two children and two grandchildren.

“Her patience and understanding make it all possible,” says Gornbein of his wife for the past 23 years.

Her love and support figure to come in handy as Gornbein puts the finishing touches on a second book, tentatively titled, “Child Custody Demystified,” which he is co-writing with Jack Haynes, Ph.D. The book project is dovetailing with a “Legal Legends” series Gornbein is working on in collaboration with the Oakland County Bar Association.

“I’m hoping that it will get launched sometime this spring or summer,” says Gornbein. “There will be plenty of ‘Legends’ to spotlight, that is for sure.”