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  • Writer's pictureThe Critical Jurist

What does Sun Tzu have to say about divorce?

Updated: Apr 26

This blog post is the first in a series of articles exploring the Art of War...


If you have never read the Art of War you might be surprised as to what the text says. Contrary to what the title suggests, it's not preoccupied with how best to defeat your enemy. Rather it focuses on the art of conducting a war and whether or not you should even be fighting.

My biggest take aways are 1) only fight if there are no better alternatives and 2) there are many ways to conquer without actually fighting.

With that said, let's focus on some aspects of the Art of War that I believe best lend themselves to divorce litigation. In chapter 2, the text deals with the financial burden that war places on the state. Sun Tsu is keenly aware that bankrupting one’s country to pursue victory on the battlefield is counterproductive. He stresses tactics intended to save resources and limit the duration of any military campaign.

“if victory is long in coming, then men's weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be damped…if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State will not be equal to the strain…[n]ow with your ardor damped, your strength exhausted and your treasure spent… [t]hen no man, however wise, will be able to avert the consequences that must ensue."

Or in simpler terms…

"There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare."

You may be surprised with a divorce attorney questioning the necessity for drawn out and expensive litigation. However, my experience has shown me that being on the same page with my clients when it comes to cost of litigation is necessary to the lawyer/client relationship.

Often a client may wish to take a certain approach to their case that would do little to improve the eventual outcome. For example, imagine a divorce case where the parties' income is well settled. Both have been working at the same employer for years and all the documents received in the case thus far support this. Now, for whatever reason, opposing counsel issues subpoenas on my client's manager and all of her coworkers. Often, my client's gut reaction is to direct me to issue subpoenas on their spouse's boss and coworkers.

That's when I simply ask why? What is the purpose? In this scenario, their spouse's income is not at issue in the case.

Often it comes down to a simple desire to engage in tit-for-tat behavior. Honestly, I might be happy to spend all day researching the names of each employee and issuing subpoenas. However, my client is not going to be happy when they receive a bill for time spent on a task that does little, if anything, to improve their case.

Likewise, a client with limited access to funds needs an attorney who will do everything to make those funds go as far as possible. There are many tools available to a divorce attorney to ensure a positive outcome in their client's case. I find that knowing which tools to avoid is just as important as knowing which ones to use.

Next: Is the goal of divorce litigation to crush the opposing party?

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