The Gray Divorce Podcast: Episode 23 Real Estate Financing and Divorce with Tami Wollensak, CDLP

Andrew Hatherley |

Announcement: Welcome to The Gray Divorce Podcast, hosted by Divorce Financial Analyst and Retirement Planning Counselor, Andrew Hatherley. Join Andrew and guest experts as they help late life divorcees build the financial and mental foundation for a meaningful future. There is life after divorce. Now onto the show.

Andrew Hatherley: Hello everyone and welcome to episode 23 of the Gray Divorce Podcast. I'm very happy to welcome friend and colleague, Tami Wollensack to the podcast today. Tami is a licensed mortgage loan originator and a 28-year veteran of the industry. Tami discovered her true passion for helping divorcing individuals navigate their home equity solutions and mortgage options while going through what could be one of the most challenging periods of one's life- divorce.

Tami has earned the Certified Divorce Lending Professional designation and works with her client's attorney, coach, mediator, and financial advisor to help guide them through all the options available to work toward a successful outcome regarding the divorcing couple’s real estate, financing, or refinancing needs. Tami has been a guest on multiple podcasts, speaks regularly, and contributes to many media outlets on divorce, mortgage planning, and helping divorcing homeowners make more informed decisions when it comes to their real property.

And I should say that Tami can lend in all 50 states. I should mention also that Tami and I are both members of the Amicable Divorce Network, a team of licensed experienced divorce professionals including attorneys, mental health clinicians, financial experts, and other specialists, and we all seek to guide divorcing couples through a modern way of divorcing called the Amicable Divorce Process, which is a civilized, transparent and cost-effective alternative to adversarial divorce litigation.

Tami, after all that, welcome to the Gray Divorce Podcast. 

Tami Wollensak: Thank you so much for having me, Andrew. This is such a pleasure. I really appreciate it. 

Andrew Hatherley: My pleasure, Tami. I've been looking forward to having you on- talking a little bit about what you do in the mortgage origination world and how it intersects with divorce.

Now, I guess the first question I would ask is, you're a CDLP- Certified Divorce Lending Professional, and so what's the difference between a CDLP and quote-unquote, a normal mortgage lender? 

Tami Wollensak: That's a great question and one that I get often, actually, and what I tell my clients is I'm a mortgage- I am a- I am trained; I have an extensive background in training in divorce, and I happen to be able to carry out a mortgage loan.

So I really truly look at where the gaps are between family law and mortgage lending- and there's quite a few of them. I'm trained to look at that and make sure that the client knows what they're signing up for. 

Andrew Hatherley: Okay. So you say gaps between family law and mortgage lending. I think I know what you're talking about, but perhaps for our audience, maybe, you could elaborate on that a little bit. What are these gaps that you're talking about?

Tami Wollensak: A couple examples to put out is a lot of times when people are going through a divorce, they feel that they want to stay in the marital home. Most people come to me and they say, I want to stay in the marital home.

And they don't really understand that what it takes to divide the equity in the home and how to qualify to do what they're setting out to do and what that looks like for them and their budget post-divorce. And their attorney is not there to really guide them or give them this information. They need to seek professionals to help support their decisions and make sure that it's a good financial decision.

Their attorney is really there to get them through the legal process. 

Andrew Hatherley: Right. Right. And quite often the legal. Wording of the agreements. 

Tami Wollensak: Yeah. 

Andrew Hatherley: It doesn't really meet the needs of a lending professional, let's say.

Tami Wollensak: Yeah.  

Andrew Hatherley: Let's say they want to refinance the property. One person stays with the property and want to- they want to refinance it.

It's important that the wording be right in the marital settlement agreement in order to get that done after.

Tami Wollensak: Yeah, as a mortgage lender, my underwriters look for specifics in the agreement itself and how it's worded in order to allow for some ways for the structure of the lending itself.

So if it's not worded a certain way, then it can really kill mortgage financing. 

Andrew Hatherley: Okay. Let's look at a concrete example then. Let's say that somebody is staying in the house but wants to refinance it down the road. What would you recommend that attorneys consider and that parties consider that would smooth the process for refinancing down the road?

Tami Wollensak: I've seen times where the attorney, let's say that the couple has marital debt that they have together, and the attorney, let's say there's two, two spouses, one's staying in the home, one's leaving the home. The one that's leaving the home is going to be receiving a certain amount of equity. And when I say the word equity, I sometimes explain what that is, and that is, the difference between the valuation on the home and the mortgage balance is equity.

That's really the asset. That's the amount of money that the couple is negotiating. So the person that's leaving the house is going to potentially be receiving some of this money through the refinance. And if the attorney lumps that amount that the- that the person is leaving the house in with paying off some marital debt in just a lump sum, it can really create higher interest rates for the person staying as well as access to limited amounts of equity. So it depends on the wording on how I can structure that mortgage loan.

Andrew Hatherley: Okay. So what about spousal support and lump sum payments versus monthly support? 

Tami Wollensak: Yeah. 

Andrew Hatherley: How would those tie in with the ability of someone to refinance or finance after divorce?

Tami Wollensak: This is a great question because sometimes if there's what's called a lump sum buyout the spouse that's remaining in the house is going to get a chunk of money. So they're going to have a big fat bank account, which is great, right? But do they actually have income? Do they have a stream of income that they can use and mortgage lending? We look at income. 

Andrew Hatherley: Yep. 

Tami Wollensak: And income needs to be stable and consistent. Yes, you have X amount of money in your bank account, but you do not have any income. And that's one of the requirements. So working with somebody that's a divorce mortgage planner or certified can help you create or come up with solutions for that.

By taking some lump sum and creating an income stream because without an income stream, typically, it's more difficult to qualify for a mortgage. And the terms are different. 

Andrew Hatherley: I know that from my own history, not even related to divorce. I remember at one stage in my life I had a pretty healthy bank account, but I was between jobs, as I said. 

Tami Wollensak: Yeah. 

Andrew Hatherley: And the bank didn't care. 

Tami Wollensak: Yeah, they don't care too much. 

Andrew Hatherley: They didn't care. I was an MBA, bilingual, with good prospects, and a good bank account. They just wanted to see a bi-weekly check deposit into an account.

Tami Wollensak: Which is silly if you think about it because a lot of times people are like, ‘but I could pay cash for this’. But, yeah.

Andrew Hatherley: Bankers do bankers, and I suppose mortgage bankers related to bankers have a bit of a reputation as not being the most flexible people.

Tami Wollensak: Yes. They're not. They're not. 

Andrew Hatherley: So you mentioned stability and consistency. 

Tami Wollensak: Yeah.

Andrew Hatherley: I'm sure. And we talk about lack of flex- potentially lack of flexibility sometimes with mortgage lenders. They have some rules that have to be adhered to, don't they? 

Tami Wollensak: Yeah. Yeah. 

Andrew Hatherley: And, talk to us a little bit about how some of those rules- and I've heard of one particular 6-36 rule- how do these rules- and how can they be planned for in advance so that a person isn't shocked that they can't- they can't use whatever support they're getting as- as income to show to a lender. 

Tami Wollensak: Yeah, that's a great question and one that I often deal with as well. Let's say that there's a spouse that's going to be receiving support and in different states it's called different things.

It might be alimony, child support, maintenance. And those different types are looked at in different ways, but we look at them under a scope of consistency and stability. We want to see, at least when you mention the 6-36 rule, it's six months of receipt of that support, traditionally. There are programs and products that allow for less. 

Andrew Hatherley: Right.

Tami Wollensak: But for the most part it's 6 months of receipt of the support and a 36 month continuance. So what does that mean? Well, you have to make sure that once you close that mortgage loan, you're going to be receiving that money for at least- we want to see at least a three year period of time. And sometimes, especially when you're talking about child support you have to be clear because you might be receiving it today, but let's say you have a 17 year old child and you're only going to be receiving it for the next 12 months until they turn 18. As a mortgage lender, that's not going to meet those standards because we need at least a three year continuance.

So, the more specific the settlement agreement is, let's say you have two kids. Let's say you have a 12 year old and a 17 year old. Well, more than likely you'll meet that stability and consistency test for the 12 year old, but not the 17 year old. And a lot of times divorce attorneys- they just lump everything together in the settlement and say you're going to be receiving X amount of money for child support.

So as a mortgage lender, since you have two children, one meets the- the tests and one does not, we would just cut it in half. We would say, okay, great, we'll give you 50% of it. But that might not be the case. Once the 17 year old ages out, so to speak, you might be receiving 75% of that income. So, it's really important that- that’s spelled out.

And the sooner that I speak to somebody, then I can educate them on how that needs to look and give them the very best support and education about how to relay that information to their divorce attorney so that they can carry out the things that they're looking to do.

Andrew Hatherley: Right. And know that all parties should know what lenders are likely going to look for in the future so that we can prepare for this in the present. 

 Tami Wollensak: Yes.

Andrew Hatherley: It makes all the sense in the world that you should be involved with the attorney and the financial advisor as early in the process as possible in order to get the real estate aspect of the financial planning taken care of in such a way so the attorney can make sure that the legalese doesn't work against the- the real estate goals.

Tami Wollensak: Yeah. I've had conversations with divorce teams before where they were going to be receiving the support for, let's say two years at a certain amount. And I said, but if you took that same dollar amount and you stretched it out to this timeline, then I can do this, that, and the other thing with that as an income stream.

And then they- it clicks in and they're like, ‘oh, yes, that's what I want to do.’ Yes. It doesn't necessarily, most parties wouldn't have thought of it, but if you can bring it to their attention and say, this is an option, could this be potentially an option? And then it might be so that they can carry out mortgage financing.

Andrew Hatherley: You- you mentioned, six months of receipt of income. 

Tami Wollensak: Yeah. 

Andrew Hatherley: And some mortgage programs, financing programs around the country might be a little less and might have their, some- some local characteristics. 

Tami Wollensak: Yes. 

Andrew Hatherley: But I'm wondering could that be structured so that- that income received before the divorce is actually signed, is maybe temporary support or can be can be considered also so that when the divorce actually happens, they don't have to necessarily wait six months or receive for six months?

Tami Wollensak: Yes, absolutely. And a lot of times I do talk to my clients about that- that the time clock can start if there is a temporary order of the support in place and to- traditionally, what happens for an attorney to file a temporary order if one of the spouses leaves the home, that money is being used to cover bills, cover, the current mortgage payment, and that type of thing.

And it can't- and if one spouse is just paying the other spouse and there's no order in place, that's just considered voluntary. They're just voluntarily making sure all the bills are covered. But if there's an order in place and that same dollar amount is placed under an order, and that spouse that's not living in the home, pays the other spouse a dollar amount under an order, and pays as ordered that can start that timeline ticking.

And a lot of times, by the time the divorce is final, you might have four or five months already under your belt, and you only need a couple more months of receipt before I can close a mortgage transaction. 

Andrew Hatherley: It's incredible how just being aware of this, it doesn't really change anything that's going on with respect to the amount of money that's being paid.

It's just a question of verbiage in the agreement and- and semantics, really. But that if there- there are important things that need to be done in order for that loan processor who needs to see these things. 

Tami Wollensak: Yeah.

Andrew Hatherley: But it shouldn't be difficult for the parties or the attorney to- to structure these things in a way that works for the lending professional.

Tami Wollensak: Yeah. Once it's brought to their attention, they're very open to putting the language necessary in the agreement and making sure that it's a successful settlement. It's just not- sometimes, they're not aware- it's not their lane. We all, as divorce professionals- we really try to stick to our own lanes.

I know you and I work a lot together and there's times when clients come to me and they say, ‘I have a certain amount of equity, but I also have a retirement account. I need to figure out is it worth it for me to do the buyout through the home, or should I give up my retirement account?’ That's not my lane; that's not my call.

Andrew Hatherley: Okay. 

Tami Wollensak: And I refer to a professional like you, Andrew, so that you can tell them what- what that actually means for their future as a plan- as a financial plan. My lane is the house, right? And what those options are.

Andrew Hatherley: It's so helpful to have a professional such as you involved because quite often I'll know that the client wants to refinance or wants to- perhaps they're selling and they want to get a new house- whatever, but I won't know the details of what's going on in that lending process.

And so by knowing that I can better help them with their other investment in retirement planning related decisions, and if money needs to be accessed from a retirement account or an investment account and taxes are brought into play, I can have a better idea of whether that's necessary.

Or it can be avoided tapping into those accounts if we can just get simple wording right on the agreement and- and follow some of these common sense for lenders purposes practices that you mentioned. 

Tami Wollensak: Yeah. 

Andrew Hatherley: What about the case where- you see this sometimes- where a couple will stay on the mortgage together post-divorce?

And typically you might see a situation where the wife stays in the house. Although, thinking of my divorce, I stayed in the house. 

Tami Wollensak: Yeah. 

Andrew Hatherley: So one of the parties stays in the house and the other party remains on the mortgage, but obviously they're concerned about the party staying in the house, not damaging their credit by making the mortgage payment.

Tami Wollensak: Yeah. 

Andrew Hatherley:  How can that play into working- working around potential refinancing. If, let's say the husband says I'll just pay the bank with- let's say Wells Fargo. I'll just pay the- the mortgage directly instead of paying you spousal support.

That can actually work. It's the same amount of money essentially going to the spouse. But it can work against a potential refinancing, can't it? 

Tami Wollensak: Oh, 100%. If they- because we don't have any history of that as a support payment, I can't use that. I see that a lot where the out spouse, we'll call them the person that not- is paying the in-spouse a certain amount, but they're just paying like the utility bills and the mortgage payment and those types of things.

It doesn't count at all as income in the mortgage world. I can't use any of it. But if it was under an order, it was- if it was in the divorce decree that- if the same amount of money is placed and said this is being paid as support, then I can use it. And depending on what it's called, it's going to also be how I would use it for an income stream and how to qualify that person if down the road they need that income to do the refinance. 

Yes. Maybe not right this minute because of how interest rates are right now, but as we both know, interest rates go up and they come down. 

Andrew Hatherley: Hopefully. 

Tami Wollensak: So they might, hopefully- like otherwise. But that- there might be a position- but if they don't have the consistency of that- or if they don't have that written in a way to where it can be structured as income then it's going to cause them problems down the road. 

Andrew Hatherley: Yeah. You can understand the out-spouse, wanting to control the process of the payment of the mortgage, given their concern about their own credit. 

Tami Wollensak: Yeah. 

Andrew Hatherley:  But certainly there's ways for attorneys to work with parties to make sure that there are procedures in place that- if a payment is late or for sure if the in-spouse makes a payment late or has an issue making a payment that it could be resolved without damaging the other party's credit. And certainly I think it's in the interest of everybody that if the in-spouse needs to refinance- well, that refinancing is going to get the out-spouse off the mortgage. 

Tami Wollensak: And they can have access to the- to another copy of the statement or maybe access to the portal where their mortgage payment is being made or set up auto draft or something to where the person that's no longer in the property is notified. So there are ways- not the ideal way though the cleanest way to do something is through a refinance and quit claiming off the deed of the property.

Andrew Hatherley: No, I can almost hear some of our listeners saying, ‘well, it sounds great to have a divorce lending professional involved in the process, but I'm paying an attorney; I'm paying my financial advisor. I may have a therapist who I'm paying as well. I can't afford yet another person on my divorce team.’

What's your answer to that, Tami? 

Tami Wollensak: They are- they're in luck. 

Andrew Hatherley: Yay. 

Tami Wollensak: As a licensed mortgage originator, I am- there's the something called the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, and if I was to charge consulting fees for my services to a divorcing homeowner, but yet not charge a first time home buyer- I do mortgage lending for other types of people as well, and I was only going to charge one client- one particular group of people and not charge another group of people, tt could be considered disparate treatment and I could lose my license. I do not charge anything. It's completely complimentary, my services, and I help the divorce team to make a better outcome.

And if there is mortgage financing then I just hope to be considered for that. If there's a refinance involved or if there's a new purchase, and I've helped that client through that whole process then traditionally I am able to do the mortgage loan at the end of the day. 

Andrew Hatherley: It really makes sense to involve someone like you.

There's no reason not to. If there's a real estate related issue or potential refinancing or financing issue in divorce, it just makes all the sense in the world to- to have someone like yourself involved to advise advisors such as myself and particularly the- the attorneys when drawing up the- when drawing up the the language of the- of the agreement.

Last but not least- this is the Gray Divorce podcast. 

Tami Wollensak: Yeah. 

Andrew Hatherley: And quite often- not always, but quite often, more often than for younger people anyway, gray divorcees find themselves in situations where they have more equity in their homes. But they may be- they may be retired or they may be- retirement may be just around the corner.

I've been hearing more and more over the past few years about reverse mortgages for older divorces. And I'll be honest with you, I've been around the block long enough to remember days when reverse mortgages were considered perhaps not the most reputable of product.

My understanding is that there's been quite a lot of development and improvement in regulations and protections with reverse mortgages that are increasingly rendering them an option for older divorcees who- who may have equity and not a great stream of income. What are your thoughts there?

Tami Wollensak: I as well have done a lot more research regarding reverse mortgages, and I find it to be quite an interesting tool in a toolbox for the client in this situation to be able to potentially free up quite a bit of cash flow for themselves, not be concerned about a large mortgage payment, and create the ability to have- for both parties to come out of this with a large equity position in a more amicable and healthy way.

Because you're able to create and take some of that equity and not create a large mortgage payment through a reverse mortgage and potentially not tap into retirement accounts and other things and be able to live comfortably in home separately. So it seems to be an- a really great resource, and I think education is the key in understanding that and talking to somebody that is really skilled with this product.

Andrew Hatherley: Yeah. As always, it pays to do our research and, it potentially could be a tool for somebody who's- let's say, staying in the house but needs to buy out a spouse or maybe the- a house with a lot of equity being sold. And both spouses could potentially use that as a down payment and then have a reverse mortgage creating an income stream and not worrying about a payment. 

If you know you're in retirement or close to retirement, of course, there need to be the right considerations there with regards to the ultimate disposal of the house, but well worth looking- looking into, and I'll be getting into more details on that in future episodes of The Gray Divorce Podcast.

Any other parting comments that's- that you'd like to make, Tami? I think we covered most of the important material here. 

Tami Wollensak: Quite- covered quite a bit. I just think that having a divorce team to surround yourself with- it can help you with all of these different pieces, is going to reduce the amount of stress and anxiety. A lot of times is- education and knowledge makes for a better or more peaceful transition because this is a life transition for people and having all the information up front and knowing what their options are can make for a better- better divorce.

Andrew Hatherley: Yes. And if anything we can do through our work myself as a certified Divorce Financial Analyst, you as a Certified Divorce Lending Professional and together our work in the Amicable Divorce Network to potentially lower the financial and emotional stress on- on people going through what is often the largest financial transaction in their lives, then that's a good thing. If any of our listeners want to get a hold of you and find out more about your services, working with people going through divorce and- and real estate financing issues, how can they get a hold of you?

Tami Wollensak: Great question, Andrew. So my website, You can schedule with me through there. All my social media is on there. I have lots of resources on my website, and this podcast will also be once we issue it. So thank you so much, Andrew, for having me.

Andrew Hatherley: My pleasure, Tami. Thank you very much. Take care. 

Announcement: Thanks so much for tuning into this episode of The Gray Divorce Podcast. To learn more or get in contact with your host, you can visit Andrew's website at Also, please feel free to rate, subscribe, and leave a review wherever you listen to your podcasts.

That helps others find the show, and we greatly appreciate it. Thanks again for listening, and we'll catch you in the next episode.

Andrew Hatherley: Information provided is educational only and should not be construed as legal or tax advice. Each situation is unique and should be discussed with your tax or legal advisor prior to implementation. Andrew Hatherley is not an attorney and does not provide legal advice. Information provided is financial in nature.

Advisory services offered through Hatherley Capital Management LLC. Divorce Financial Analysis Services offered through Wiser Divorce Solutions, an affiliated company