Unfortunately, the golden years of Alice and Bob's marriage have past. Where once they loved each other, now they can barely speak without ending up in a snarling, spitting argument. As a result, they divorce. Naturally enough, each is entitled to a fair share of the marital property, and each expects to get what they think is coming to them.
The problem is, they each have very different views on precisely what they think is coming to them. Because of all the built up bad feelings, Alice wants to punish Bob for being Bob, so she demands the house, the car, the kids, the boat, the CD and DVD collection, the prize rose bushes, the carpet, the dishes, Bob's socks, and most especially his prized mint-condition copy of Captain Ersatz #1 left to him by Bob's grandfather. Bob, feeling a need to retaliate, demands all of those things plus Alice's prized collection of autographed photographs of her favorite Soap Opera stars!
Neither will give in to the other's demands, and neither will give up enough to come to a compromise. The resulting exchange in division of assets might end up equal in monetary value, but it's the sentimental value that's being used as a weapon.
Every time there's a divorce in media, the individuals involved never decide to handle it in a sane, rational manner. They're always as petty, vindictive and spiteful as possible, in a "Who Can Hurt The Other The Most?"-style contest. It's even worse when there are children in the picture, where even then, the custody battle might have more to do with hurting the ex than deciding what's best for the kids.
Too often this becomes Truth in Television. In Real Life, at least, this sort of thing is why prenuptial agreements came into being, and courts will also allow for sanctions to be pursued against offending parties and their attorneys (and may also deny monetary awards to filers of sanctions whose own behavior left them with no room to talk as per the "unclean hands" doctrine). After all, courts hate divorces just as much as you do, and they really hate messy ones. If you and your ex run up massive legal bills because you just couldn't act like mature adults and had to fight it out to the bitter end (which in fiction-land occasionally involves such extremes as hiring the sleaziest Amoral Attorney in town or even the occasional assassin), the court will do its best to punish you and your attorney (who absolutely should have known better) for it.
- Lampshaded in the Sprint Nextel commercial What If Loggers Ran The World. The titular workmen act as a Divorce Court, literally cutting all of the marital assets (including the boat, the Van Gogh art, and the house) in half, except the dog.
Logger: Boss, what do we do with the Shih Tzu?
Logger Judge: [after a beat] Joint custody.
- Another similar commercial for Lexus has a man served with divorce papers in which his wife demands half of everything. He smugly decides "I'll give her half!" and cuts up every piece of furniture in the house with a chainsaw. (When the dog sees what he's doing, it quickly runs away) He then advances on his Lexus with a blowtorch, but stops before cutting it and concludes "Maybe we can work this out".
- A Volkswagen commercial involves the couple getting along just fine, until the question of who gets the car.
Lawyer: [rattles car keys]
[cue massive brawl]
- The Scandinavian commercials for the store chain Elgiganten starring John Cleese have him standing in an unfurnished house, declaring he's getting divorced again and once again his wife's getting everything. Cue a blurb for the affordable appliances available at Elgiganten, followed by John declaring "Thank God for Elgiganten!"
- An add for H&R Block involves a man getting a huge tax return-but since his accountant is also his ex, he only gets to keep $17 because of alimony. She lets her new boytoy watch too.
- In one underground comic, the marriage of Dino-Boy (yes, he's a human with a dinosaur body, or a dinosaur with a human head) falls apart. They both hire lawyers — which happen to be partners and decide to milk both spouses for all they're worth.
- In Ball and Chain, Mallory interprets "take what you want and go" fairly liberally. Meaning she took Edgar's Bruce Springsteen collection.
- A Dave Berg MAD cartoon from the 70's uses this as a topic, with a couple bitterly, and physically, fighting in court over every single asset, EXCEPT the Mercedes, which both are fine giving to the other person. This is because this was right in the middle of the gas crisis of the 70's during the oil embargo, and fuel for a muscle car like that was like having to buy gallons of liquid gold.
- A sidestory of Pokémon Reset Bloodlines features one involving Wicke's older sister, Pia. Until it's settled, Wicke has to take care of her nephew Zilant to prevent him from getting tangled into the mess (as well as being used as legal leverage).
- The War of the Roses is about an escalating war over marital assets between Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas that is taken to a ridiculous and tragic extreme. The story is told by their lawyer as a cautionary tale to a client considering a divorce in the hopes that he would think twice about going through with it.
- Played for laughs in the Cary Grant / Irene Dunne film The Awful Truth, with a custody battle over a dog.
- In Robert Altman's movie Short Cuts, a husband facing an impending messy divorce demands his mother's grandfather clock from his soon-to-be ex-wife; she slams the door in his face. He shows up at her (formerly their) house the next day while she is away with her new boyfriend (or, rather, one of her new boyfriends) and saws every piece of furniture in half with a chainsaw except the clock (and his son's TV).
- In Enchanted, when we first meet Robert the divorce lawyer, he is with a divorcing couple who is arguing over who gets to keep a Hank Aaron rookie card.
Husband: You never loved Hank like I loved Hank!
Wife: You never loved me like you loved Hank!
- In Star Trek (2009), Dr. Leonard McCoy introduces himself to Kirk, and provides the origin for his nickname, discussing why his divorce motivated him to join Starfleet.
McCoy: Well, I got nowhere else to go. The ex-wife took the whole damn planet in the divorce. All I got left is my bones.
- Inverted in What's Love Got to Do with It: When Tina finally left Ike, the only thing she kept was her name.
- In Diary of a Mad Black Woman, during Helen's divorce, her grandmother Madea takes a chainsaw to literally divide the assets in half. This was made complicated, however, by the fact that Helen had signed a pre-nup. In the end, as a way of showing that she finally let go of her anger towards him, she let him keep everything in exchange for paying her attorney fees and her mother's nursing home bills.
- In Good Advice, Iris turns out to be loaded. She has been married several times and ended up taking the house after each divorce. She works at the paper for fun and doesn't cash any of her paychecks (which is just as well, since the paper is nearly broke).
- In Fletch, the protagonist is frequently bothered by his ex-wife's annoying divorce attorney Melvyn Gillette, who he despises almost as much as his ex-wife. (Supposedly, Melvin was able to get a rather unfair settlement in his wife's favor.) Fletch gets even with him at the end of the second film, however, when he shows up offering to forego all future alimony payments (and never show his face there again) in exchange for the Belle Isle property, which he believes to be valuable. Fletch, barely able to contain his joy, happily signs over the land, which unbeknownst to Melvin, is worthless and covered with toxic waste due to the events of the movie.
- In The First Wives Club, Elise and Bill's divorce ends up obligating Elise to sell her extensive collection of furniture, artwork, and other valuables (including Bill's Lamborghini convertible) and split the profits equally with Bill. Inspiration strikes and Elise sells the whole kit and kaboodle to Annie for a dollar.
- Intolerable Cruelty is built around this, effectively about a war between gold-diggers who marry and then divorce their rich husbands, and the lawyers who try desperately to stop them from taking too much from said rich husbands.
- This is the conflict of the court case in Liar Liar; Jim Carry's client signed a prenuptial agreement stating that if she had an affair she would be entitled to nothing when divorced by her (very wealthy) husband. Carry plays the Amoral Attorney who's trying to get her out of it. The entire case is a joke as the woman is not only clearly guilty but shows absolutely no remorse for her wrong-doing, and Carrey only encourages her to take as much as she possibly can. After finding a way to invalidate her pre-nup though, the client also demands total custody of their children (purely to milk more child-support payments out of her ex), which is enough to give Carrey a Heel Realization.
- Subverted in Wedding Crashers. The protagonists start the film arbitrating between a couple very much interested in following this trope but manage to calm both parties.
- In What Happens in Vegas, two people get drunk and get hitched in Vegas. Then, just as they decide to get divorced, the guy wins a jackpot at a slot machine. The girl immediately takes him to court and demands half of the winnings. The judge (played by Dennis Miller) declares he's had enough of divorces after Vegas marriages and denies them their request to get divorced, telling them to live together for 6 months. Only after that he'll make his decision. Naturally, they start to fall in love over that time.
- Divorcee Barbie. $300.00, but she comes with Ken's house, Ken's car, Ken's boat, Ken's dog, Ken's best friend, Ken's retirement accounts...
- In one story by Ephraim Kishon. "And he took all the money from our account, minutes before I could do so!"
- In The Babysitters Club book where Stacey's parents get divorced, there are an endless string of fights of this nature about everything from appliances to wedding presents.
- Maureen and Brian more or less avert this in To Sail Beyond the Sunset. Sure, Brian seems to think their assets should be divided among the two of them and his new fiancee, but gets it through his head Maureen will not play along with that idea, and they achieve a mutually satisfactory asset split without having to drag judges and lawyers into negotiations.
- At one point, Adrian Mole overhears his mother say that the only reason she hasn't left his father is that they can't agree who doesn't get custody of him. He assumes she's misspoken.
- In Rewind (Terry England), Janessa takes advantage of her husband being transformed into a nine-year-old child by the Holn to seize control of all their assets in this way.
- A Place for Murder: Thatcher is dragooned by Bradford Withers into trying to settle an argument over the valuation of a country estate so the owners' divorce can go through. In a variant, the fight is between the two women involved (the current wife and the woman her husband wants to marry), with the husband staying out of the mess. Becomes the murder motive once the second woman realizes neither her intended spouse nor First Wife have the slightest clue how valuable the dog-breeding kennel based at that estate is. The kennel operator was stealing all the profits.
- The Cat Who... Series: Arch Riker, Qwill's lifelong best friend, is mentioned to be fond of antique tin, and at one time had a sizable collection, which his first wife managed to get hold of in their divorce settlement. She promptly opened her own shop - "Tin 'n Stuff" - to sell it.
- Dead End Job Mysteries: Protagonist Helen Hawthorne is avoiding one of these with her current lifestyle for the first nine books. Thanks to the courts siding with her deadbeat and cheating husband Robbie during their divorce proceedings, she legally owes him half of every paycheck she gets from then on, and has been forced to effectively live off the grid - no bank account, no phone, no permanent address - and work a string of dead-end jobs, paid only in cash with no benefits, in order to avoid him getting so much as a penny from her - and even then, her best efforts aren't enough to keep him from eventually finding her and demanding money. This ceases to be a problem after Rob dies in book 9.
- In Dear John, John's ghastly ex-wife Wendy has taken everything.
- Gary Unmarried does this with a pool table he "gave" his ex-wife ("It was one of those joke gifts that I say is for you but is really for me!"). The terms of their divorce says that all gifts stay with the recipient, so the pool table is hers. But he has an ace up his sleeve: a lewd photo album she gave him as an early Valentine's Day gift one year.
- On CSI, one Body of the Week died from this trope: he decided to take the fact that he got "half of everything" in the divorce literally and attempted to chainsaw his wife's favorite furniture. Unfortunately for him, he was a left-handed man using a right-handed chainsaw, and killed both himself and the friend who came along to help him.
- Another CSI episode has both sides killed by this. The couple decided to let the dog decide whether the man or woman would get him, but the wife (solely to upset her husband) cheated by smearing her hands with bacon grease. This culminated in a Karmic Death when the husband tried to switch out his dog with another. She caught him in the act, became angry when he admitted to caring more about the dog than he cared about her, and shot him dead. Unfortunately, the replacement dog had suffered some sort of trauma, became violent on hearing the gunshot, and mauled her to death.
- A CSI: Miami episode had a couple engaged in a highly publicized The War of the Roses-esque conflict become the suspects in a murder. Though they had nothing to do with it, eventually they did momentarily set aside their differences to murder a divorce attorney scamming them both. The team busts them for the latter thanks to the help of their son: when asked why he decided to turn in his own parents, he replies that they fought tooth and nail over their material possessions...but not once over him.
- Niles and Maris on Frasier went through this. At one point Maris's lawyers were claiming that a Valentines card that said "Yours is the heart mine adores/Everything I have is yours" was a pre-nup.
- In Degrassi, Claire's parents take up her suggestion that she live in the family home full-time while the parents commute between it and an apartment elsewhere based on who's turn it is to have custody.
- The Saturday Night Live sketch Samurai Divorce Lawyer had the titular character resolve every dispute over which half of the couple gets a certain item by slicing it in half and giving one half to each. The sketch ends as they start arguing over who gets custody of the kid.
- In Revenge Conrad and Victoria's divorce battle becomes very nasty, with each of them trying to get an edge on the other by any means, and before long things from their past that could ruin both of them start to surface as, among other things, each of them starts to reveal past wrongdoings of the other to try to get their children on their side.
- It is later revealed that Conrad went through a similar thing with his first wife Stevie but since she was and Off the Wagon alcoholic at the time, he managed to keep most of his fortune. Conrad then uses the fact that he screwed her in the divorce proceeding as a weapon against Victoria. Stevie was supposed to get a plot of land that Conrad kept for himself and he later built his summer home on the land. Victoria is supposed to get the house in the divorce but it technically belongs to Stevie. He informs Stevie of the 'oversight' rightfully betting on the fact that Stevie hates Victoria more than she hates him.
- In Necessary Roughness Danni's divorce proceedings turn nasty from time to time but she ends up with the kids, the house and half of a large unpaid tax bill.
- After effects are shown in How I Met Your Mother, Barney's boss has been through a tough divorce, with his wife getting pretty much everything (except she forced HIM to have full custody of the kids) most notably his beloved dog, Tugboat.
- An episode of Castle contains a scene with two characters having an extremely acrimonious divorce, such that they just start smashing everything that has been designated as belonging to the other person.
- In another episode, an art piece called the Fist of Capitalism is stolen and a man working at the museum is killed while protecting it. A woman marches into the precinct to announce that her husband has stolen the Fist. They're the rightful owners (it's on loan) in the middle of a divorce, and it's a subject of contention in the divorce proceedings. The wife is the murderer. She was the one who wanted the Fist badly enough to steal it. Her husband only saw it as a pawn in the negotiations.
- In another episode a woman arranges for the kidnapping of her own child and has a proxy demand virtually everything the couple owns as ransom so that there are no assets her husband (Whose financial contributions to the marriage were minimal) can claim when she applies for divorce on the grounds that he let their daughter get kidnapped while he was in the house.
- On My Name Is Earl, Joy is feeling miffed that Earl had a winning lottery ticket, but since she divorced him for Darnell (and Earl claimed the lotto money after the divorce papers were signed), she doesn't get any of the money. She then finds an old video labeled as a will, of her sitting on the couch with Earl. In the video, Earl (drunkenly) says that he loves her more than anything, and that should anything happen to him, everything will be hers. Joy schemes various ways to kill her ex-husband so she can get her hands on the lotto money. Joy got a gun, but by the time the background check went through, Earl had written a new (sober, legitimate) will, meaning she wouldn't get a dime. Joy gives up trying to kill Earl, and as the series progresses they become Amicable Exes.
- On Elementary a man sets up an elaborate murder plot to temporarily tank his company's stock so he does not have to pay out as much to his wife in their upcoming divorce. Once the divorce was finalized, he would reveal that he was being set up, reclaim the company's good name and then sell it to a competitor for tens of millions of dollars.
- An episode of Monk involves a popular crime show actor going through one of these, although his relationship with his divorcing wife isn't bad. He sets up an elaborate scheme to kill the wife while providing him a perfect alibi, as his show is about to be syndicated, and he doesn't want to split the profits.
- In an episode of Adam-12, Reed and Malloy answer a call to find a husband smashing up his living room. The man says his wife is leaving him and he wants to make sure that whatever she gets in the divorce settlement is worthless. He's dismayed when the cops tell him California is a community property state and half of what he's wrecked is his.
- Grace and Frankie's second episode deals with this. Primarily a co-owned beach house and cut off credit cards.
- Jessica Jones (2015): Jeri Hogarth is going through a divorce with her spouse Wendy and is taking up an affair with her secretary Pam. It's extremely bitter, with Wendy demanding 75% of Jeri's assets and blackmailing her into agreeing. Jeri in turn asks Jessica to dig up dirty information on Wendy to blackmail in return. Jessica, in a drunken depression due to her pursuit of Kilgrave, resorts to outright threats against Wendy, who ups her demand to 90% of Jeri's assets in response. Jeri ultimately tries to make a bargain to use Kilgrave and have him force Wendy to agree to lesser terms. He's so disgusted with Jeri that he orders Wendy to kill her through Death By A Thousand Cuts, and the end result is that Pam winds up killing Wendy in Jeri's defense, then breaks up with Jeri, realizing just what kind of person she is.
- The series premiere of Two and a Half Men featured one in which the divorce lawyer of the husband decided to help the wife take him for all he was worth.
- The Law & Order episode appropriately titled Divorce focuses around a particularly ugly divorce proceeding. The husband is attempting to have the marriage annulled with the church so he can remarry, while the wife is fighting it to prevent the illegitimacy of her children. As bad as they are, their lawyers are even worse, scrapping over every penny. It comes to a head at the beginning of the episode, when a counselor for the church is murdered. The wifes lawyer eventually confesses that her client committed the crime, but between her distressed state of mind and blackouts from her prescription abuse, shes not responsible for the death. The reality is that the wifes lawyer framed her for the murder after killing the councelor herself while trying to ransack her computer for the counselors findings that she was in favor of the annulment due to the wifes drug abuse. She figured her clients incapacity would leave her unable to fight the frameup, and when her client beat the murder charge on diminished capacity, she could soak up sympathy to gouge the husband out of even more money.
- Radiohead's song "Morning Bell" from Kid A is (arguably, given that the meaning of much of Kid A is barely comprehensible) about divorce, with a suggested solution being "cut the kids in half". The line itself is likely a reference to 1 Kings 3:16-28, which is about the custody of a child, but not in the context of divorce.
- The Reverend Horton Heat's song "Galaxie 500" deals with an acrimonious divorce, where the man loses everything, but he keeps sarcastically reassuring himself at least he gets to keep their Ford Galaxy 500, which has seen better days.
- "Weird Al" Yankovic does a comical take on the subject in "Alimony", his parody of "Mony Mony" as performed by Billy Idol.
- The Tom Smith song "Take Your Hands Off The Bear" is about a marriage that ended so badly that the singer is willing to give his wife anything just to get her out of his life... except for his beloved teddy bear, Mr. Gumpus. Naturally, the wife wants the bear purely to hurt him.
- In early live versions of Meat Loaf's "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" from Bat Out of Hell, the song ends with the man and woman arguing about how to split their assets in the divorce. The woman declares she's Taking the Kids, hitherto ignored by the signer up to this point.
- This issue is something of a Berserk Button to Bill Burr, who has done several rants in Stand-up on the topic. He's openly compared women taking everything they can in a divorce, no matter how unearned or petty, as being a kind of legalized domestic abuse that people praise. For the record, Bill is Happily Married, he just personally thinks the practice is unjustifiable.
Bill Burr: I'm sick of this. "It's what the law says." A hundred years ago I could've beaten you with a broom handle, "It's what the law says." Doesn't make it right.
- Eddie Murphy had a bit about this in his famous Raw show, discussing the then-recent divorce of Johnny Carson. He hypothesized the only way he could avoid being cleaned out by an ex-wife would be if he married a completely isolated woman from a secluded African tribe with no concept of money. But that even that would fail the second she's left alone in the same room as American women, who will then urge her to take every penny from him.
Eddie: [as "spouse"] Eddie? What have you done for me lately?
- The relationship of the Erlkönig and the White Witch ended with a really messy divorce in the Buildingverse. She did threaten her ex with banishment by magic to make him leave (seen in Roommates) and they still fight over their son (he was kept by the White Witch originally probably at least partially to deprive the king from the heir he always wanted as she routinely calls the kid "Despised waste of genes" in Girls Next Door), who grew up and moved away long ago.
- Daria starts like this in "Aunt Nauseum," with Daria's cousin Erin getting divorced and Helen serving as her attorney. However, this turns out just to be setup for Helen to get into a battle with her sisters (one of whom is Erin's mother), while Erin and her husband wind up resolving their issues off-screen.
- The Simpsons:
- Marge befriends a neighbor named Ruth Powers, who is recently divorced. Her ex-husband is something of a deadbeat, so he has been skipping child support payments. Rather than resolving the issue in court, Ruth steals her ex's car and Marge gets roped into this whole mess. During the epilogue, it's said the case was eventually taken into court. Ruth had to return the car but her ex was forced to resume the payments and blamed it on his lawyer (Lionel Hutz).
- While there's never really any detail given to how the divorce between the Van Houtens went down, it presumably didn't go well for Kirk, as he spends the seasons between the divorce and eventual remarriage living in a men's shelter and working ridiculously low level jobs. Milhouse also mentions that his parents fought over custody of him, but it was because neither of them wanted custody.
- The Henry VIII retelling involves the 'half of everything' joke - including half Homer / Henry's crown getting cut in half.
Homer: Hey, I invented divorce! How did you get half of everything?
Blue-Haired Lawyer: You should have invented the prenup. And now, half of your kingdom, please. [Homer tears a map in half]
- The eponymous CatDog did the whole "dividing possessions in half over a conflict" thing, though it didn't involve a literal divorce.
- Codename: Kids Next Door: Ms. Thompson's ex-husband clearly hated her, so much that one asset she gained from him was a necklace that carried a curse of lycanthropy; this was quite a problem among students until Numbah Four managed to break the curse by grabbing it. (She was grateful, but not enough to bend the rules and up his grades.)
- This was the focus of a two-parter of King of the Hill in which Buck Strickland's wife finally divorced him for having an affair with one of his employees (and for being a drunkard. And for being a gambler...). Given the long list of reasons Miz Liz had to sever ties with her husband (and having a high price lawyer) she immediately gets the lion's share of the assets, including the house, cars, personal wealth, and Strickland Propane. Buck starts to legally "Sell" other businesses he owns to close friends to keep those off the books and have returned to him after the divorce is finalized, including giving a restaurant to Hank and Peggy. Hilarity Ensues when Peggy starts to make changes and runs the restaurant into the ground.
- The "literally dividing all the assets by cutting them in half " thing actually happened between a Cambodian couple in 2004 when they cut their house in half rather than let the other one have the whole thing. As you can see in the image above. It happened again in Germany in 2007.
- Some divorce lawyers encourage the "Take him for all he's worth" behavior, one in Pennsylvania even erecting a gigantic billboard made to look like a Pennsylvania license plate with the custom tag "WAS HIS" on it.
- For a long time, a famous way to get around this in America was to get the divorce, happily agree on the asset distribution, child support, and alimony...and then the one making the payments would walk down the street to the federal courthouse and declare bankruptcy, and get out of paying a thing. (It would also have a whole lot of other awful effects, but you'd be seriously surprised how many people getting divorces are on the verge of bankruptcy anyway; even today, divorce is a leading triggering event for personal bankruptcies, in the same league as losing a job and medical catastrophes.note ) This tactic was finally banned by Congress in 2005.
- When Napoleon Bonaparte divorced his first wife Josephine in 1809, he confiscated the keys to her jewelry cabinet, eventually giving it all to Austrian princess Marie Louise when he married her the following year. Josephine got even when she left by taking their entire fancy dish service with her, so that Napoleon's court was forced to eat off of plain plates until the old ones could be replaced.