As a plebe at The Citadel, I learned that plebes must address upperclassmen as Mister as a sign of respect and that upperclassmen must address plebes as Mister to keep them in their lowly position. Thus I learned that Mr. and Ms. can express respect or contempt.
When litigants in family court refer to an estranged or former spouse as Mr. or Ms., I see it as distance, derision, and disrespect. I advise clients to refer to an estranged or former spouse by his or her Christian name. I suggest to them that people who have slept together, and especially people who have had children together, should be on a first name basis.
What do other lawyers advise their clients?
I agree in result, however, I think many clients pick up this habit, subconsciously, from their lawyers. Lawyers call the opposing party Mr. or Ms. out of respect for the person and the formality of the process. Clients may accidentally adopt the sterility of pleadings and correspondence as a way of relating to their lawyers and as a reaction to what they believe the legal system prefers. No matter the reason, you want to avoid the interpretation that you are doing it do diminish or outright disrespect the other side.
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