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Foot-Dragging Divorcee

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Couples in fiction who get divorced generally do so in only two ways. Either they hate each other so much as to fight viciously in court over every piece of property and terms of child custody, with each party hiring an Amoral Attorney who is willing to use any dirty tactics, or else it's a unilateral decision by one party which the other spouse, still in love with their partner, can't quite bring himself (and it usually is the husband, which statistically is Truth in Television more often than not) to conclude the divorce. The divorce papers will lie conspicuously on the foot-dragger's desk, still sealed in their manila envelope, and they will use any administrative slowdown they can to drag it out till the very end of the deadline for submission. The would-be ex who wants the divorce will pester them to get it done, often because they're planning to marry someone else and the wedding date is fast approaching.note 

When the papers finally do get signed, it's usually after the reluctant spouse has some plot-inspired epiphany about how he needs to get on with his life, set his partner free to live hers, or otherwise accept that it's over. Either that, or the foot-dragger meets a new Love Interest of his own, possibly as a Pair the Spares.

Subversions often end up being a Temporary Divorce. Aversions in which a two-timer claims to his or her lover that their spouse is a foot-dragger, but actually has no intention to divorce at all, are also common.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Kaguya-sama: Love Is War, Miyuki and Kei Shirogane's father is physically and emotionally separated from his wife, but they are not formally divorced yet. He believes that it was his fault that his wife left the home, and still pines for her in the hopes that they may one day come back together again.

    Audio Play 
  • 36 Questions: The Third Act starts with Judith still trying to get Jase to finish "The 36 Questions that lead to love", despite the fact that he insisted that their marriage was over and left her stranded at a motel.

    Comic Books 
  • Robin (1993): As a Catholic, Janet Drake was reluctant do get divorced despite her marriage having long since fallen apart, and at the time of her murder she and her husband were on a trip that they'd both agreed was their last attempt to repair their marriage. Her widowed husband remarried to a younger woman in a matter of months.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In The Dons Analyst the protagonist falls in love with the estranged wife of one of the Don's sons, who despite no longer loving her or living together and constantly cheating on her, refuses to grant her a divorce because of his macho code. By the end of the movie, the protagonist has won the family around enough with the Power of Therapy that the son finally agrees to the divorce so she will be free to marry the shrink.
  • Eat, Pray, Love: Liz Gilbert decides to divorce Steven, her husband of eight years, feeling that their marriage is getting stale, even though Steven clearly does not want to.
  • The Viviane Amsalem film trilogy about the Arranged Marriage of Israeli woman Viviane Amsalem (Ronit Elkabetz) and Elisha (Simon Abkarian) turned Awful Wedded Life was capped off by Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem. Gett is about the Kafka-esque divorce trial Viviane relentlessly goes through to end it all in a rabbinical court.
  • The John Wayne movie McLintock! has GW McLintock's estranged wife come back into town to demand a divorce, which he will not do because he enjoys making her miserable and knows deep down she doesn't really hate him.
  • In San Andreas, Ray receives divorce paperwork in the mail shortly before he's called down to the dam collapse in Nevada. He "just happens" to neglect to sign them before leaving.
  • Mort Rainey in Secret Window. It gets to the point where even his wife's new boyfriend is nagging him to get it over with.
  • In Sweet Home Alabama, Melanie returns to her hometown to badger her husband Jake into signing the divorce papers so she can remarry. He does, but at the wedding it's revealed that Melanie herself did not sign them. They get back together.
  • In Twister, Bill Harding is only there in tornado-alley at the time because he came there to badger his wife Jo into finally signing the divorce papers. Subverted in that they wind up back together and never do get the papers signed.

  • Fury (Salman Rushdie): Jack Rhinehart's wife has "made it her life's mission" to refuse divorcing him, instead using a variety of slow legal tactics to bleed him dry.
  • The character who helps the protagonist in Lucky You has long since split up with his wife, and keeps mailing divorce papers, which she won't sign. The protagonist suggests that she (the wife) is refusing because of a lack of control: she wants to be the divorcer, not the divorcee.
  • A Wolf in the Soul contains a rare example in which both parents are dragging their feet. They're still dragging their feet when the book ends.

    Live-Action TV 
  • On the Angel episode "Bachelor Party", Doyle's wife shows up with her new fiancé so that she can finalize their divorce. Doyle is naturally mopey, since the only reason she left him was because he found out he was half-demon. Except that it turns out the new guy is also a demon, forcing Doyle to confront the fact that no, it was his own angsty reaction to the news that drove her away. And then it's inverted as Doyle finally comes around to blessing the new union, only for Harry's fiancee to try to eat his brains.
  • As the World Turns's Julia signs hers and Jack's divorce papers. . .then commits herself to a mental hospital, thus invalidating her actions, as they were supposedly done when she was mentally unfit. The real kicker is that she doesn't even want Jack, she's just bitter and angry about him dumping her for Carly and is determined to make things difficult for them as payback.
  • On Bones, Angela's husband that she didn't even remember marrying appears and says he has built a house for her. He won't grant her an annulment/divorce so she can marry Hodgins, but by the end of the episode he relents.
  • A plot point in Breaking Bad. Skyler starts the divorce process against Walt due to his drug dealing, and threatens to call the police on him if he doesn't sign the papers. However, he obstinately refuses, even going as far as to break back into the house she kicked him out of (which the cops can't arrest him for because it's his own property, he didn't threaten her, and she doesn't have a restraining order). She eventually relents and agrees to stay married so she won't be forced to testify against him if he's caught.
  • Agent Hotchner on Criminal Minds hesitated for several episodes to sign the papers that divorced him from Haley.
  • Rita's first husband, Paul, in Dexter initially refuses to sign the paperwork, despite the fact that she had him sent to prison for domestic abuse. She later gets him to finalize the divorce, threatening to have his visitation rights to his children revoked if he doesn't sign.
  • In Eureka Nathan is still in love with his separated wife Allison and refuses to grant her a divorce. Finally relenting is part of what causes her to realize she wants to get back together with him.
  • For Life: Marie presents Aaron with divorce papers after he's been in prison for a number of years. He does not sign them until Marie's father (unbeknownst to her) visits Aaron in prison and implores him to let Marie live her life. (Marie ends up reconsidering and does not file the papers after all.)
  • Frasier: After Niles and Maris finally separate for good she proceeds to drag their divorce proceedings out for over a year in an attempt to ruin Niles financially. The divorce is finally settled after Roz sets Niles up with a brilliant lawyer who gets Maris and her team to stop stalling and finalise.
  • On Friends, Ross and Rachel get married while drunk in Vegas. Ross makes preparations for an annulment, but delays signing the papers because he likes being married to Rachel, and because he's already been divorced twice. When Rachel finds out, she is none too pleased.
  • In House, Chase drags his feet regarding the paperwork after Cameron divorces him. It came up in "Lockdown".
  • JAG: Mac had an abusive husband who refused to sign the divorce papers. And then he wound up dead and Mac was tried for murder.
  • Implied on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, when a bedridden Stabler tells Benson that his wife began divorce proceedings two weeks ago and he's just not gotten around to signing the paperwork.
    • He eventually does sign the papers in "Burned", but only after watching another divorcing couple completely destroy each other in a vindictive "he said, she said" rape investigation.
  • On Lucifer, Reese Getty is this, because he's convinced that he can salvage the marriage. His wife, Linda, is all too aware of his deeper issues and won't put the foot down for fear of forcing him into a breakdown, which he interprets as a sign of her still having feelings for him. And then there's his conviction that the man she's sleeping with is actually the Devil... It's largely a moot point for Linda, as Reese is dead and thus out of the picture, but the guilt and inability to let go provides him with constant torture in Hell.
  • One Life to Live's Clint refuses to sign his and Viki's divorce papers, wanting to fight for their marriage. She tells him that it's pointless and warns him that she can get it done even without his signature, and she eventually does.
  • Subverted on Psych: Carlton Lassiter was in denial about his separation from his wife, and thought they were getting back together when she asked for dinner at their first-date restaurant. She confronted him with divorce papers and he gave a long, foot-dragging speech, but eventually admits he was aware he'd never been good for her. Having gotten that off his chest, he immediately signs the papers.
  • On Resident Alien, Harry Vanderspeigle was this to his wife, Isabelle, so naturally she's more than a little thrown off when the alien Harry Vanderspeigle signs the divorce papers the second that she asks.
  • On Royal Pains, Charlie does this for pretty much the entire first season to his wife Jill, who he left in favor for his job rather than work on their relationship. Despite her wanting him to sign the papers long before he left, he keeps postponing it in an attempt to woo her. However, sometime between seasons 1 and 2, she finally gets him to sign them and he leaves.
  • Scenes from a Marriage (2021): Jonathan spends much of episode 4 trying to get Mira to sign the divorce papers. Ironically, as he points out, she was the one who wanted the divorce to begin with, but losing her job and getting dumped by Poli has made her question her decision.
  • On The X-Files, Skinner has been served divorce papers, and he and his wife have been separated for 8 months, because they've grown apart. He puts off signing the papers, but the two reconcile and call off the divorce.

  • Cost of Living: Eddie and Ani had separated and filed for divorce when she got in a car accident and was rendered a quadriplegic. Eddie is dragging his feet about getting the divorce papers signed. It's partly because he expresses concern about her health insurance, but he's clearly ashamed about everything, even if he isn't willing to break up with his new girlfriend.
  • Goodbye Charles plays this for laughs, but is also surprisingly poignant: a woman explains to her soon-to-be-ex-husband that she ate their divorce papers because she cannot accept losing him.
  • Six: Like her real-life counterpart, Catherine of Aragon refuses to accept a divorce from her husband, Henry VIII due to her status as a devout Catholic, and the fact that she has done nothing wrong that would warrant being treated so poorly.
  • Sleuth begins with Milo Tindle coming to ask the Andrew Wyke to sign the divorce papers for his wife, who is now Tindle's lover. He's reluctant to do that, and you could say the divorce papers become the MacGuffin of the story.

    Video Games 
  • Joseph Clarence, the tutorial assassination target in Hitman: Blood Money, was left by his Trophy Wife after he went broke due to managerial negligence of his amusement park which killed a number of guests when the Ferris wheel collapsed. He's so determined that his wife doesn't mean it and will eventually come back to him (despite her disgust that he's using the park as a factory for a local drug lord) has led him to capturing her lawyer when he came to deliver the divorce papers and having his goons torture the man to death until 47 rescues him.

    Visual Novels 
  • My Magical Divorce Bureau features some. None of them have any way of stopping the process altogether, but they can be less than helpful.

    Western Animation 
  • On Hoops, Ben Hopkins is still desperately in love with Shannon and refers to her as his wife, despite her having dumped him and her now going out with his best friend, Ron. He has adamantly refused to sign the divorce papers and continues to refuse throughout most of the first season, only finally doing so in the penultimate episode as a birthday gift to her.

    Real Life 
  • In strict Orthodox Jewish law, a divorce must be obtained through the husband giving the wife a piece of paper called a "gett" in order for the divorce to be recognized by the Jewish community. Some husbands refuse to give their wives a "gett" because they can use it as leverage over them. NPR ran a story on it, because so many "chained wives" have hired people to blackmail or threaten their husbands into divorcing them that a couple of New York rabbis actually made a living doing just that. Israeli law even allows throwing the husband in jail for refusing the divorce. The film Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem is all about this issue.