Can my husband or wife really "take me to the cleaners"?

Possibly. The courts have discretion on how to divide the assets and debts, although a guiding principle is that settlement orders made by the court have to be fair and reasonable. Unfortunately the law's reliance on courts using discretion based on "fairness" and "reasonableness" creates a significant degree of uncertainty because two different judges could easily regard two completely different decisions as still within the ambit of reason and fairness. The law is not an exact science and the legislation only really provides a framework for parties to resolve their differences.

Unfortunately, it is entirely possible for a person to mismanage their divorce or separation so badly that they are indeed "taken to the cleaners" and so it is important to recognise the seriousness of the legal aspects and to approach the situation in as objective and rational a manner as possible. In order to get pragmatic, objective advice, it is important to talk to a solicitor.