Gerald Kornreich: Always Remember the Children
For the past three decades, Gerald “Jerry” Kornreich has been a powerful advocate for the children of South Florida, helping clients become better parents, enlisting attorneys to serve as guardians at litem and providing holiday meals and toys to families in need.
“I love practicing family law, because you can do so much good for other people,” says Kornreich, managing partner at Kornreich & Associates, Miami. “I’m a litigator who has spent my whole life seeking to have peaceful results for family and children.”
Board certified in marital and family law, Kornreich specializes in high-conflict cases, trying to keep families from being torn apart. He also handles paternity, prenuptial agreements, child support, custody and alimony matters. In virtually every situation, he tries to keep parents focused on the interests of their children.
“Just as spouses need to communicate with each other, parents should listen to their kids and give them the time they need. “Unfortunately, many professionals are so busy all the time with work that they lose touch with their children. To save time, they just tell their kids what to do, rather than take a cooperative approach. When I have clients who are going through a divorce, I try to find helpful resources for the parents and educate them on how they can do a better job in the future.”
An Inspirational Mother
Born in Brooklyn, Kornreich grew up on Miami Beach, where he enjoyed watching courtroom shows like “Perry Mason” and learning important lessons in life from his mother Sayde Swire. A Czechoslovakian who fled to the U.S. from Germany to escape the Holocaust, she became an active volunteer in South Florida while raising Kornreich and his two brothers David and Leonard. “Despite her hardships, she was always teaching that giving of oneself is the highest calling,” Kornreich said. “She has been an inspiration to all who have met her.”
Sayde Swire’s strong family values and quest for justice also rang a chord with David Kornreich, who became a board-certified labor law attorney and long-time partner at Fisher & Philips before passing away in April. While Kornreich’s wife Chinya is not an attorney, his daughter Amber is a student at Florida International University College of Law, and may decide to join her father’s firm in the future.
Kornreich earned his law degree in 1974 at the University of Miami, where he participated in a summer international law program with University of Exeter Law School in England. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science from American University. “A lot of us who went to law school at that time were very engaged in politics, and making a difference in the world,” he says.
After joining the Bar, Kornreich went into practice with a former judge in a storefront office on Hialeah’s “Main Street” (W. 49th Street). “Our office was a house on the street with a small desk for me, and we handled every type of case that walked into through the door,” Kornreich recalls. "I did criminal law, divorce work and all kinds of litigation."
In the early 1980s, Kornreich was asked to represent children in cases handled by Juvenile Court Judge Ralph Ferguson. It was a key moment in Kornreich’s career, and he still recalls Ferguson’s philosophy: “Always remember it will be for the children. Always help the children.”
Kornreich took that advice to heart and in 1984 he became the youngest attorney in Florida to be board certified in marital and family law. Back then the divorce process was largely adversarial and cases that couldn’t be settled easily had to be resolved in court. “I was one of the first marital lawyers who pushed for mediations in every case,” says Kornreich. “Alternative dispute resolution usually produces better results for the parents and their children.”
Today, Kornreich is a proponent of having two mediation sessions, beginning with a preliminary meeting in the first four to six weeks of the case. “The purpose is to lower the emotions and get both parties to sit down and talk,” he says. “It’s had a beneficial effect in every one of my cases.” A second mediation can then occur further down the road in an attempt to settle the outstanding issues and avoid a costly trial. “I love going to court, and I’ve tried as many cases as anyone, but each year I’ve noticed fewer trials, because there are more effective ways to resolve marital issues,” he says. “People understand that with mediation they have more control over their own lives.”
Looking at trends in family law, Kornreich expects Florida to legalize same-sex marriages in the next few years, following the lead of other states. “That will be a big help to same-sex couples who currently have legal and financial issues related to ownership of property and other assets,” he says. “It will also lead to an increase in divorce cases as well.”
One of Kornreich’s proudest accomplishments was handling the appeal of a gay father in the 2009 “two moms and two dads” case involving two same-sex couples. One of the mothers wanted to raise a child with her partner, and one of the gay fathers agreed to help her conceive. After the baby boy was born, the mom and her partner moved to California with a devastating emotional impact on the two dads who wanted to stay involved in the child’s life. Kornreich represented the dad pro bono, and in the end the case was resolved with a settlement that resulted in the little boy having three legal parents, plus a step-dad.
Helping Protect Children
Throughout his career, Kornreich has gone above and beyond the “call of duty” in helping to protect children who may be abandoned or the victim of domestic abuse. In conjunction with the Dade County Bar Association’s Put Something Back pro bono program and the First Family Law American Inn of Court, Kornreich in 1998 launched an influential campaign on behalf of those children. More than 100 lawyers volunteers were recruited to act as guardians ad litem in domestic violence cases where a child has filed an action for protection against a parent or caretaker. The next year, Edith Osman, then president of The Florida Bar, recognized Kornreich’s efforts by appointing him vice-chair of The Florida Bar Commission on the Legal Needs of Children.
In 2001, Kornreich received the Tobias Simon Pro Bono Service Award for his efforts. “Gerald Kornreich’s contributions are truly remarkable,” said Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles T. Wells during a special ceremony. “There’s an overriding theme to his pro bono efforts that can be summed up in one word: children.”
Today, Kornreich continues to chair the “View from the Bench: seminar for pro bono family cases and has recruited more than 3,500 individuals for the guardian at litem program. He also helped establish and has chaired the Court Care program, a project jointly sponsored by the Miami-Dade County court system and the YWCA of Greater Miami that provides daycare services in four Miami-Dade courthouses.
Kornreich’s dedication to giving back to the community extends well beyond the courtroom. He personally also takes part in four major volunteer events a year, including a “turkey day” feeding the homeless at Camillus House; providing holiday presents for children at Lotus House, a shelter for battered persons; and organizing a Thanksgiving family meal program and a December holiday toy drive through the First Family Law American Inn of Court.
Summing up his lifelong approach to life, Kornreich says, “I believe we are here to help other people. A family law attorney can do just that by helping parents and children get off to a positive start on the next stage in their lives.”
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