Thea Martin: Real Change Starts at Home
When Thea Martin began pursuing her career in law, she was drawn to public policy and social justice, but as she began practicing, she found her true calling as a divorce attorney. A self-proclaimed feminist, Thea found herself fighting for women and children.
“Through practicing, I was able to see that real change starts at home and if we aren’t taking care of the family and children, then everything else we’re doing is a Band-Aid,” Thea says. “I realized if women and kids aren’t safe and there isn’t justice and equality in the home, we’re not going to create change we’re going to see.”
Spending years in the courtroom, Thea found that the traditional divorce process wasn’t always serving the needs of families and children. She gave up litigation last year and, as a partner at Lafferty & Martin LLC in Guilford, she now focuses on divorce mediation and collaborative divorce. She now serves on the board of the Connecticut Council for Non-Adversarial Divorce.
“I hated the litigation part, so it was nice to give that up and take my law degree and years of experience as a divorce lawyer and look at how we are going to create change,” says Thea. “I’m not longer in the courtroom, but still serving folks who are going through divorce in a much more humane, much more compassionate way. The reality is that divorce doesn’t hurt children; it’s the way we divorce that has potential of hurting children.”
Over the years, Thea has worked with a variety of non-profit and public policy groups and was looking for the right fit when she moved to Guilford where she lives with her husband and 11-year-old son. She spoke to several people about options and continued to hear about the many services the Women & Family Life Center (WFLC) provided. She now is a member of the Board of Directors, as well as a program consultant and facilitator.
“It really surprised me that in such a small community, they had this direct service that really was able to see the big picture, asking what, as a community, do we need to do to make sure women, family, and kids on the shoreline are safe,” says Thea. “They weren’t single-policy focused and didn’t choose one topic or issue and put their whole heart into that.
“It’s like no other organization in Connecticut that I’ve worked, seeing the whole picture,” she continues. “Rather than putting a Band-Aid on one particular problem, they look at it from a holistic view and ask how do we support a family that’s in crisis or transition and walk with them until they’re on their feet again and then how do we continue to support.”
After giving up litigation, Thea looked at the divorce workshop programs the WFLC has offered in the past and, drawing not only on her experience as an attorney but also as a yoga teacher with a specialty in restorative workshops, revamped them. The WFLC is now offering a series of workshops called Adapt, with an aim to inform and empower women through their decision about divorce and the divorce process.
The next workshop, which will be held on Saturday, Jan. 12, is a two-hour divorce preparation workshop in which participants receive practical information such as how the divorce process works and the court system’s process, as well as discussion of alternatives to litigation such as mediation and collaborative divorce.
“Our first priority is to create safety in the room and group—the understanding that everything is confidential—and a community,” says Thea. “Once you have a comprehensive understanding, we encourage participants to write down the resources they’ll use to move forward and to come back to see one of our volunteer attorneys, volunteer financial planners, and for further workshops.”
Other workshops in the Adapt series include a Parenting Plan Workshop and a Finance Workshop. Those in the separation or divorce process can also participate in a two-week course about creating change, which will be held Tuesdays, Jan. 15 and 22.
“Just giving basic legal information isn’t enough,” says Thea. “The workshops are designed to cover important legal points of a divorce, but also ensure that the women who attend are receiving wraparound support.”
Thea stresses that all of WFLC’s wraparound services are free of charge and while there is a registration fee for the workshops, the fee can be waived for those unable to pay. WFLC also not only serves Guilford, but all of the towns on the shoreline. Services available include one-on-one meetings with attorneys or financial advisors who can help create budgets, as well as staff members who can help navigate social services such as HUSKY, food stamps, and other programs.
In addition to the wraparound services and divorce workshops, the WFLC offers a wide variety of other programs, classes, events, and more. There are also support groups for breastfeeding, domestic violence, food allergies, and more.
“You can come to Women & Family Life not just because you’re in crisis, but if you want community and support. It can be a time of wanting to connect and knowing if something bad happens, Women & Family Life has my back,” says Thea. “My personal mission is to have women’s backs, family’s backs. I’m walking with them through a difficult time in life and sharing the knowledge, information, and love that I have so they’re making well-informed choices and can find the happiness and abundance that we all deserve and need.”
The Women & Family Life Center Adapt program will be held Saturday, Jan. 12. The registration fee is $10, which can be waived for those unable to pay. For information on Adapt and other programs, visit womenandfamilylife.org or call 203-458-6699.