In this paper, we introduce a new problem called Tree-Residue Vertex-Breaking (TRVB): given a multigraph G some of whose vertices are marked "breakable," is it possible to convert G into a tree via a sequence of "vertex-breaking" operations (replacing a degree-k breakable vertex by k degree-1 vertices, disconnecting the k incident edges)?

We characterize the computational complexity of TRVB with any combination of the following additional constraints: G must be planar, G must be a simple graph, the degree of every breakable vertex must belong to an allowed list B, and the degree of every unbreakable vertex must belong to an allowed list U. The two results which we expect to be most generally applicable are that (1) TRVB is polynomially solvable when breakable vertices are restricted to have degree at most 3; and (2) for any k >= 4, TRVB is NP-complete when the given multigraph is restricted to be planar and to consist entirely of degree-k breakable vertices. To demonstrate the use of TRVB, we give a simple proof of the known result that Hamiltonicity in max-degree-3 square grid graphs is NP-hard.

We also demonstrate a connection between TRVB and the Hypergraph Spanning Tree problem. This connection allows us to show that the Hypergraph Spanning Tree problem in k-uniform 2-regular hypergraphs is NP-complete for any k >= 4, even when the incidence graph of the hypergraph is planar.