We all need something from others– truly, not a single person I have encountered over the last four decades operates as an island.  But the key question to keep in mind when asking for something is this: how big is your ask?  The bigger the favor, the more prepared you need to be to get a “no.”

As a divorce lawyer, here are 3 big asks I often have to deal with:

1. Alimony– asking someone to help their ex meet his/her expenses is a big ask, especially if you are seeking indefinite (aka “lifetime”) alimony.

2. Custody– when someone says they want “sole” or “primary” custody, that person has to be prepared to answer the inevitable question of why is that appropriate?

3. Property– often one spouse just wants to keep the house or his/her retirement.  I get that there are emotional reasons for these positions, but we need to present logical reasons in court to justify each and every request.

Outside of divorce court, the reason settlement talks break down is really because the asks are too high.  When it’s too difficult to bridge the gap, negotiations break down, leaving everyone in limbo until a higher power can intervene.

Even in non-legal disputes, it seems aside from power/control issues, every day people keep arguing about these same two things: time and money.  Both are limited resources, and we don’t all share the same priorities.  Especially as families get re-configured (either through births, deaths, divorce or marriages), you have to understand and accept that new obligations may be created that will impact someone’s ability to contribute time or money to your cause, whatever that may be.  But if you really want to boost your chances of success, my advice is fairly simple here: remember your please and thank yous. Word choice matters a lot, and people are far more receptive to requests versus demands.

Unfortunately, no matter how nice or accommodating you may be, not everyone is capable of putting themselves in another person’s shoes, and they can only see things from their own perspective.  It is almost impossible to work/try to reason with someone that lacks the capacity to have empathy for others.  In these scenarios you just have to remind yourself that it’s about them, not you so you just need to pick your battles and know when to walk away.

Before your next big ask, take a moment to consider how big is the ask, and how would you feel if you were the other person?  The bigger the ask, the more you need to prepare yourself for a “no” and have a back up plan, this way the sting of rejection won’t hurt as much and if you happen to get a “yes” then you will just be pleasantly surprised.

By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.