How It Works, Your Mortgage File

A number of mortgage questions crop up during a divorce. I remember working with a married couple on the purchase of their first home. They were excited, giddy almost, about this purchase. Three months later I listened as he explained the situation. It was going to end badly and he wanted options.

Another time, a young unmarried couple moved to the area and couldn’t stand the thought of renting. What a waste of money. Nearly a year later she was on my phone, desperate to stay out of forclosure.

I’ve seen it all to often. Each time questions come up:

  • Both of us are on the loan. Can I get the loan in just my name without a refinance?
  • Why can’t I just take my spouse off the title?
  • What happens if I can’t qualify for a refinance?

Unless neither side wants it, the home is awarded to one party. In each situation, the divorce decree will outline who was awarded the home, how the equity is split, and the timeframe necessary to complete these changes.

Let’s tackle the questions.

Both of us are on the loan. Can I get the loan in just my name without a refinance?

Typically, no. The note is a contract which obligates both parties to repay the loan. A refinance is required. You must be able to qualify for the loan under your own financial strength. Once you close on the new loan, the old one will be paid off, removing your spouse from obligation.

Why can’t I just take my x-spouse off the title?

The title or deed is the document that tells us who owns the property. The loan note tells us who is obligated to the debt. The mortgage connects it all together. Make sense?

Think of it this way: Ownership vs. Obligation.

So, removing someone from title eliminates their ownership interest but does not relieve them from their obligation to repay the debt.

Typically, it’s a tradeoff: One party refinances, the other party agrees to sign a quit claim deed to remove any ownership interest.

What happens if I can’t qualify for a refinance?

This is usually the hardest question to answer. A number of things will happen if you are unable to refinance.

Note: A finalized divorce decree is required to complete a refinance transaction. This means a court approved, recorded document. Nothing short of this will work. Divorce situtaions are complex and the terms constantly change until the judge signs and stamps the document.

Run the gamut of options with your lender. There are a lot of programs out there including some tempoary solutions. Be cautious and weigh your options. Tempoary loans like adjustable rate mortgages might offer a solution but will they fit your long term goals?

Try to find a co-borrower. A parent or sibling might strengthen the loan if they are willing take the risk for you.

If you are unable to qualify for a refinance within the required timeframe, you might end up listing the home for sale. If this happens, keep your head up. There will be many good things headed your way.

Remember, good memories are the only invaluable real estate. You’ve got this!

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Divorce . . Nasty Business

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