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Divorce Requires Death

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Some societies don't allow divorce. In societies that do, there are still people who just won't have it. After all, the vow was "until death do us part". Surely this must be taken as direct advice for how to handle a divorce?

This can go down two basic routes, murder or suicide, and the spouse who dies may be the one trying to leave or the one wanting to stay. The murder versions are often driven by greed, a desire to avoid splitting the family fortune. Other common reasons include:

Note that the attempted murder or suicide/"accident" may be unsuccessful. Or even fake.

Compare Til Murder Do Us Part.

Since this is a Death Trope, expect heavy unmarked spoilers.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Ōoku: The Inner Chambers, Yunoshin has sold himself into (pampered) bondage in the female shogun's harem, expecting never to see home or girlfriend again. Once a man enters the ooku as a concubine, he can take no other (female) lovers than the shogun and can leave the service or the building only at his death. The shogun later lets him go, by helping him Faking the Dead. He's declared legally dead, his family gets a large "bereavement" payment, and the man formerly known as Yunoshin goes home to marry the Victorious Childhood Friend he loves and take her family name.

    Comic Books 
  • MAD:
    • In the parody of The Godfather Part II, when Kay demands a divorce from Michael, he refuses because it is against God's will. He then turns to family consigliere Tom Hagen and orders a "hit" on her. Hagen then tells Michael he is a good Roman Catholic for not divorcing her.
    • In the parody of The Shining, the boy's mother tells him that his father is trying to kill her because he can't get a divorce as a Catholic.

  • In fanfic The Marriage Stone, most high ranking officials would rather just assassinate Snape all together, in order to gain Harry's hand in marriage.
  • If Thems The Rules, Arcturus Black poisons his wife, Melania, so he could be free to seduce Harry.

    Film — Animated 
  • Inverted in Corpse Bride. Victor must die if he and Emily are to get married.
    • Also played straight, to end a marriage. Divorce doesn't really fit the time period, so for Victor and Victoria to be together, the man she was forced to marry instead must die. Luckily, he's evil enough that no one will mourn him. And conveniently, he accidentally kills himself, sparing anyone else the effort (and the guilt – he was evil, but not enough to justify homicide). Rather fittingly, he dies by drinking the poisoned wine that was meant for Victor to kill himself with.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Douglas Quaid in Total Recall (1990). After shooting Lori in the head: "Consider that a divorce."
  • Lord Love a Duck:
    Stella Bernard: In our family we don't divorce our men; we bury 'em!
  • The Whole Nine Yards: Partially Played for Laughs, where the mobster wants to murder his wife because divorce is a sin for Catholics. He's also not too keen on adultery and likes to mix difference verses from The Bible:
    Jimmy "The Tulip" Tudesky: Do unto others before you're turned into a pillar of salt.
  • Double Jeopardy has the heroine's husband die in an accident and her getting wrongly convicted for murdering him. Turns out he was simply Faking the Dead, starting a new life with a new wife — whom he has already murdered, by the time the heroine finds out.
  • Divorce Italian Style revolves around this trope, with the Villain Protagonist seeking to get out of marriage by setting up circumstances in which he can murder his wife and receive a slap-on-the-wrist by committing a type of honor killing specifically mentioned in the Penal Code until 1981.
  • Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors: Palahna shacks up with a sorcerer, with the apparent intention of getting him to kill Ivan to spare her of their loveless marriage.
  • How to Murder Your Wife has the protagonist inadvertently get married; his wife is Catholic so she won't grant him a divorce. He is an author of a comic strip featuring a hard-bitten detective who becomes a hen-specked sap after the writer is married. The writer illustrates how his hero plans to murder the hero's wife. The real-life wife sees it, is heart-broken and disappears- leaving the whole murder plot laid out.

  • In A Brother's Price, it is hinted at that some commit suicide to get out of an unhappy marriage. There is an interesting example with Keifer Porter who dies in an accident. Which was actually an attempt on the lives of his wives, in which he was involved. His death actually was an accident, unless one counts it as Hoist by His Own Petard. Divorce is technically possible, but requires consent of the women involved. There is a tragic opera wherein one aria is the lament of an infertile man who begs to be allowed a divorce so his wives can have children. His infertility is what brings about a civil war.
  • Agatha Christie:
    • In 4:50 from Paddington, the victim is the estranged wife of the killer. The killer wanted to marry a rich woman, but his wife was a devout Catholic and refused to divorce him.
    • The Third Floor Flat: the murderer was apparently in love with his new flame, the wife refused a divorce.
    • The Murder on the Links has this in the backstory, the motive was money.
    • Lord Edgware Dies: the victim agreed to a divorce, but the new flame was pious and wouldn't have agreed to marry a divorcee.
    • The Mysterious Affair at Styles: the motive was money, and the murder was committed just as the victim was planning a separation.
    • Murder in Mesopotamia: the victim cheated, and the killer pulled If I Can't Have You…
  • Kate Daniels mediates a Pack divorce dispute between werewolves, who traditionally mate for life. A young married wolf couple were separated for years, during which time both spouses fell in love with other people. The spouses now want to marry their new partners while joining a new pack, but their families are horrified at the idea of divorce. Kate is stumped until Curran suggests a Pack law saying "any shapeshifter joining the Pack has a one-time right to a new identity. If the husband didn't use it when he joined, declare him officially dead and let him rejoin under a new name. His former wife will officially be a widow."
  • The Dispatcher: The first person to experience Resurrective Immortality is pushed off a cliff by his wife because she's having an affair but can't summon the nerve to leave him.
  • Very odd subversion from Edgar Allan Poe's The Premature Burial. A young French woman named Victorine LaFourcade was seeing a poor journalist named Julien Bossuet, but she caved in to pressure from her wealthy family and dumped him, and ended up marrying a well-known banker. Her marriage to him was abusive and unhappy, and she apparently fell ill and died after many years of putting up with the banker's abuse. Julien went to her grave to take a lock of her hair as a memento, only to find that she was not actually dead; she had only been mistaken for dead and Buried Alive! He took her home and nursed her back to health, and the two eloped to America together. They returned to France some 20 years later, and Victorine's former husband recognized her, and tried to claim her back, though she refused to go back to him. The court ruled in her favor because of the unusual circumstances and the number of years that had passed.
  • In The Red Tent, Laban's treatment of Ruti has been just beyond awful, and Ruti is living in a society where only men can initiate divorce note , so when she just can't take it anymore, she slits her wrists by a dry riverbed.
  • Robert Sheckley:
    • In A Ticket to Tranai, divorce isn't allowed on Tranai and instead Murder the Hypotenuse is legalized.
    • In "Trap", an alien plots to kill his wife because she insisted on a permanent union when they were getting married.
  • A rather complicated example from The Silmarillion: Finwë's wife Míriel dies in childbirth, but due to the way souls work in Valinor could come back. However, Finwë falls in love with Indis, and one of the stipulations for him remarrying is that Míriel is never allowed to return to life, because according to the laws of the Valar Finwë can't have two living wives at the same time. After he is later murdered, this leads him to give up his chance to come back to return Míriel to life.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Second Sight", we meet a famous scientist who has everything... except his wife's love. And she comes from a culture that doesn't permit divorce, so she's slowly (and unknowingly) killing herself instead by telepathically creating an image of herself to pursue affairs. The episode ends with her husband killing himself instead in the process of culminating his life's work, so that she will be free.
  • The Orville takes this literally as in the Moclusan culture, killing your spouse is the only way to end a marriage.
  • In one early episode of Law & Order: SVU, a beautiful man is dead. It quickly turns out that his landlady was an alcoholic who had the hots for him and also had a pedophile boyfriend and a daughter. (The daughter is clearly adult, but probably supposed to be 16 or so, making the pedophile label inaccurate in a plot-relevant way.) It is quickly established that the man died protecting the girl from the "pedophile". This later turns out to be a lie: The girl was in love with the man, but he was about to leave the country and refused to take her with him. And she couldn't bear the thought to live without him. So her mind snapped, and she killed him.
  • Highlander: The Raven had an episode where Amanda's former husband (a fellow Immortal she only married to save her own neck) turns up. They fight and when she had him dead to rights, he pleaded "I'm your husband." She answers "I want a divorce" and offs his head.
  • In one episode of Person of Interest the Victim of the Week is a married couple who have both put out a hit on the other in order to avoid the cost of the divorce. At the end of the episode they decide that they can make the marriage work (once they get out of jail).
  • Father Brown: Discussed in "The Flying Stars" when the Victim of the Week insists that she'll die before allowing her husband to divorce her simply because he doesn't want to watch her drink herself to death, mere minutes before she's killed in a scuffle with another person.
    Mrs. Adams: The only way I leave this marriage is in a coffin.
  • On Adam Ruins Everything, Adam explains to Murph that the advent of no-fault divorce reduced suicide rates among women by 20% in The '70s and The '80s, when the laws were going into effect.
    Adam: Divorce rates increased in The '70s and The '80s, not because society was crumbling, but because divorce was finally available to the people who really needed it.
  • Discussed on The Golden Girls when Sophia compares modern divorce laws to traditional Sicilian practices.
    Sophia: In Sicily there was no divorce. If you wanted out of a marriage, you had to resort to lupara.
    Rose: Is that some kind of legal loophole?
    Sophia: It's some kind of saw-off shotgun.
  • House of the Dragon:
    • Prince Daemon Targaryen and Lady Rhea Royce are in an Arranged Marriage. They hate each other, live apart, and haven't seen each other in years. They're as divorced as they can be in a society that does not allow divorce. Daemon conducts his life as if he were not married—the only thing his marriage stops him from doing is being allowed to marry someone else. Twice he tries to take a second wife while his first wife still lives, calling it polygamy, but he's resoundingly told he can't do that. And so he kills Rhea in a Hunting "Accident" in order to free himself up to enter a more desirable union.
    • Rhaenyra Targaryen is The Beard, married to the gay Laenor Velaryon, and the two are fine with the situation and find romantic partners elsewhere, until the day Rhaenyra wants to marry her uncle Daemon. In that case however, things take a much better turn as Laenor is Faking the Dead so he can become a sword for hire in Essos along with his lover Ser Qarl Correy, leaving Rhaenyra free to marry Daemon (at least "better" for the parties involved, not so much for the dead Velaryon guard used as decoy and Laenor's devastated parents who believe he's dead).

  • This is the plot behind Morcheeba's song "Women Lose Weight". In order to marry his Sexy Secretary and to avoid the complications that come with divorce:
    Slick Rick: Anyway, long story short, hit the side of her Chrysler — sent her clean over the divider! "You BASTARD!" she said, as the wreck went tumbling the hill — I thought, she HAS to be dead.
  • She Daisey has a song called "A Night to Remember" He has an affair, she finds out and kills them both. The chorus states that the couple "promised him/her forever, 'till death due us part."

  • In traditional Jewish Law (not to be confused with contemporary Israel) a woman cannot divorce her husband. Thus it occasionally arises that a man will refuse to give his wife a get, or a divorce agreement, often in attempt to extort money out of her, and many legal devices are used in an attempt to pressure this recalcitrant husband into granting his wife a divorce.note  The story is said of Jewish Sage Rabbi Akiva Eiger, that such a man was brought before him once, with the hope that Rabbi Eiger would convince him to divorce his wife. Rabbi Eiger brings him into his study, and opens a volume of the Talmud to its first page. He turns to the man, looks him in the eye, and says, "The Talmud says here that a woman is freed from her husband in one of two ways. Through divorce, and through the husband's death. Which one would you prefer?" The man looks at Rabbi Eiger, laughs and says, "What, are you trying to threaten me?" He walks out of the study, walks out the front door, and collapses dead of a heart attack on the front steps.
    • According to Jewish law, a man who refuses to divorce his wife is to be beaten till he agrees. Thankfully this isn't enforced any more, despite the huge authority given to rabbinical courts and the rabbinate in general over marriage and family life.
    • Jewish women who aren't granted a get (Jewish divorce) from a missing husband are called 'agunotnote . They have several solutions to avoid this situation. For instance, according to traditional interpretation, King David did not sin when sleeping with Bathsheba, as her husband divorced her before going to war (as was, according to Jewish interpreters, standard practice back in the day), lest he were captured and she would become an aguna; so, technically, King David did not sleep with a married woman, which is a sin punishable by death according to the Old Testament laws.
  • It's said that an "Irish Divorce" is actually a shotgun. Similar jokes exist in other countries where the majority of the population is Catholic.
    • "Divorce Italian Style" (after which the movie mentioned above is named) was Italian slang for "man wants to get rid of his wife, so he arranges for her to sleep with a friend, catches them in the act, murders her and gets away with a slap on the wrist". The action stopped being committed after the Italian law permitted divorce (and an attempt to get the law abrogated by referendum was sunk when the vast majority of Italians voted to keep it) in 1974, but the relevant law remained on the books until 1981.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition: The "Ceremony" spell grants supernatural blessings for various rites. A marriage ceremony grants the happy couple a week of protection from harm, after which they have to be widowed to become eligible for the spell again. It raises the question of just how far players are willing to go to optimize their characters — and of how marriage law handles coming Back from the Dead.

  • Used in the old vaudeville joke: "My wife and I have been married 50 years, and I've never once considered divorce. Murder, on the other hand..."

    Video Games 
  • This trope turns out to be the case in Serena although at at first their marriage is portrayed as idyllic it soon becomes clear the marriage had some serious issues and unresolved tensions. At first the player is led to believe the protagonist murdered his wife... especially after he goes into the rage moodshift - and even he himself believes this at one point which is what finally snaps him out of his fury and causes him to become remorseful and despairing instead. Turns out that Serena was actually the abusive/controlling one and he didn't kill her at all. Serena on the other hand is guilty of murder, and it's strongly implied not only murdered him and hid the body in the armoire, but comes back at the end to burn the cabin down to hide the evidence.
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim:
    • Unfortunately, marriage in Skyrim works like this. Once you're married to someone, the only way to marry someone else is to kill your current spouse. Unless you resort to using cheat codes in the console or Game Mods that is.
    • This is also the case with Hroggar in Morthal, whose wife and daughter died in a fire; he then married Alva "before the ashes were even cold". Many locals believe that Alva had something to do with the fire. She absolutely did. It was all part of her plan to turn the whole town into loyal vampire thralls.

    Western Animation 
  • Family Guy:
    • One episode has Quagmire getting married to a woman who turns out to be insane and threatens suicide every time he tries to divorce her.
    • Another episode plays the trope for laughs. During a story told by a psychic of Peter's ancestor, who founded Quahog, he was married to a woman who resembled Meg, but when his first/true love (who looks like Lois) finds him again, he had to divorce Meg via the "complex, extensive divorce procedure required by 18th century society..." cue cutaway to past-Peter shooting his wife with a musket behind the house.