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Annapolis, MD - Divorce lawyer represented appelant with a motion to modify.
For nearly a decade, the parents of the two children at the center of this case have
been fighting over custody and child support, flooding the docket in the Circuit Court for
Montgomery County with over 500 entries. The litigation began in January 2012, when
Donielle Kirkwood, appellee, filed a complaint for custody against Anthony Fludd,
appellant. At the time, Ms. Kirkwood was fleeing her relationship with Mr. Fludd, which,
she claimed, had turned abusive.
The parties contested custody and visitation fiercely, cycling through various
temporary arrangements. In December 2015, behind torrents of motions, the circuit court
entered a final custody order awarding Ms. Kirkwood sole legal and physical custody of
the parties’ two children who, at the time, were both under five years old. To help manage
the financial burden of raising the children, Ms. Kirkwood filed a motion for child support
and other financial relief. Mr. Fludd responded. For unknown reasons, the circuit court
did not rule on Ms. Kirkwood’s motion for child support for several years.
Meanwhile, issuance of a final custody and visitation order did not decelerate Mr.
Fludd’s filings in the circuit court. To the contrary, in the months following entry of the
final custody order, Mr. Fludd continued what the court had characterized as “abusive
filing.” Then the litigation storm quieted for a little over two years until Mr. Fludd filed a
motion to modify child custody and visitation in September 2019.
At a hearing on the motion to modify, the circuit court appointed a child privilege
attorney and counseled Mr. Fludd to resume therapy in the hopes of furthering the
reunification process outlined in the 2015 child custody order. After the hearing, however,
the circuit court was informed that Ms. Kirkwood and the children fled to Texas some
months earlier. Mr. Fludd had already notified the court, several years earlier, that he
moved to Washington, D.C. Accordingly, on September 1, 2020, the court held a hearing
on the issue of the court’s continuing jurisdiction over the case.
Although the parties and the court agreed that the circuit court no longer had
jurisdiction over the child custody issues, Ms. Kirkwood argued that the court retained
jurisdiction over child support. On November 17, 2020, the court issued an order in which
it found that Ms. Kirkwood had presented grounds establishing continued personal
jurisdiction over Mr. Fludd on the matter of child support and related attorney’s fees and
costs under the long arm provisions of Maryland’s Uniform Interstate Family Support Act
(“UIFSA”), codified at Maryland Code (1984, 2019 Repl. Vol.), Family Law Article
(“FL”), §§ 10-301-71. Following this determination, the court held a hearing over two
days in early December on the merits of Ms. Kirkwood’s 2016 motion for child support.
Ms. Kirkwood testified to her financial burdens as well as the abuse that Mr. Fludd
inflicted on her. She professed that she was “scared to ask” for child support. The court
issued a written order requiring that Mr. Fludd: (1) pay $2,101 per month in child support;
(2) pay one calendar year of arrears, totaling $25,212.00; and (3) pay Ms. Kirkwood $8,000
in attorney’s fees.
Mr. Fludd noted a timely appeal and presents two questions for our review, which
we have rephrased non-substantively for clarity:
I. Does the doctrine of laches bar a trial court from considering a motion
for child support filed four years earlier?
II. Does a trial court have personal jurisdiction over a nonresident parent
to award child support?
We affirm the judgment of the circuit court. First, we hold that the doctrine of laches
is generally inapplicable to child support claims. Second, we hold that in child support or
paternity actions, the trial court need only find one basis among the seven listed under the
UIFSA long-arm statute to exercise jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant.
Mr. Fludd and Ms. Kirkwood are the natural parents of two minor children. In
January 2012, Ms. Kirkwood filed a bill of complaint for custody of the parties’ then-only
child in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County. Weeks earlier, Ms. Kirkwood also filed
for a temporary protective order in the District Court of Maryland for Montgomery County.
On May 23, 2012, Mr. Fludd filed an answer to the custody complaint along with a countercomplaint for custody.
The parties initially entered into a consent order in the circuit court under which
they shared legal custody and Ms. Kirkwood had primary physical custody. Just three days
1 Mr. Fludd presented the questions in his brief as follows:
“1. Whether the doctrine of laches barred a trial court from considering a
motion for child support that had not been considered for over four years,
and there is inexcusable delay and prejudice as a result of that delay?
2. Whether the trial court has personal jurisdiction over a nonresident parent
to award child support?”
after the consent order was entered on June 19, 2012, Mr. Fludd filed a motion to modify—
the first in a long series of filings. Following numerous motions and hearings, in December
2015, the circuit court entered a final custody order awarding Ms. Kirkwood sole legal and
physical custody of the parties’ two children.
2 The custody order specified that Mr. Fludd
was to have no contact with Ms. Kirkwood or the children3
and instructed that, “due to the
abusive filing” by Mr. Fludd, he was “prohibited from filing any charges against [Ms.
Kirkwood] with any commissioner anywhere in the State of Maryland.” Instead, Mr. Fludd
was “limited to filing charges directly with the police or the State’s Attorney’s Office.”4
Still, the order articulated a reunification process which outlined, among other things, the
steps that Mr. Fludd must take before he is eligible for visitation and custody.
In September 2016, Ms. Kirkwood filed a “Motion For Child Support and Other
Financial Relief and Request for Hearing.” (Capitalization omitted). Later the same
month, Mr. Fludd filed a response arguing that the portion of his disability payments
2 The record reveals that after Ms. Kirkwood had filed her initial complaint for
custody, she conceived a second child by Mr. Fludd. The second child was born on June
3 Ms. Kirkwood had already obtained a final protective order against Mr. Fludd on
December 19, 2014 in District Court Case No. 0602SP050122014. That order noted the
“long history of violence/abuse between [the] parties” and ordered, among other things,
that Mr. Fludd not abuse, threaten or harass Ms. Kirkwood and the children and to stay
away from Ms. Kirkwood and the children, as well as the children’s childcare providers.
4 Ms. Kirkwood alleges in her brief that Mr. Fludd’s abuse of her “extended beyond
physical abuse, to include, cyberstalking, abuse of process and false imprisonment.” By
January 2015, Ms. Kirkwood was living with her children in a domestic violence shelter.
directed to Ms. Kirkwood constituted child support.5
Further, Mr. Fludd asked the court
to enter a judgment in his favor awarding “fees incurred in this matter” and “[s]uch other
relief this [c]ourt deems appropriate.” However, as discussed below, the issue of child
support was not ultimately decided until December 15, 2020.
Four years after the motion for child support was filed, Mr. Fludd wrote to Ms.
Kirkwood’s counsel requesting that the reunification process, as outlined in the 2015
custody award, proceed. In his letter, Mr. Fludd asked for an update as to the children’s
“court ordered activities,” as the completion of these activities, he claimed, had been a
“barrier for the reunification process.” Mr. Fludd also noted that he hoped to “prevent
unnecessary pleadings, legal fees, or court fees” by having the “opportunity to discuss the
status of [the] case” and “speak frankly about mutually resolving [the] matter.” In
response, Ms. Kirkwood’s counsel advised that the children were “still in need of further
therapy” and that if Mr. Fludd wished to progress in the reunification process, he should
“request a modification through the court.”
On September 26, 2019, Mr. Fludd filed a motion to modify custody and visitation.
He asserted that he had “not seen or spoken with the minor children since January 16,
5 Neither Ms. Kirkwood’s initial motion for child support nor Mr. Fludd’s response
were included in the record extract. While we have reviewed the original record for the
purposes of this opinion, we encourage future litigants to follow Maryland Rule 8-501(c)’s
instruction to provide “all parts of the record that are reasonably necessary for the
determination of the questions presented by the appeal or cross-appeal.” See also Motor
Vehicle Admin. v. Geppert, 470 Md. 28, 39 n.7 (2020) (“We  note that future litigants will
earn the undying appreciation of an appellate court if they can successfully consolidate
relevant materials from the record in an agreed-upon record extract, as encouraged by
Maryland Rule 8-501.”).
2015”; that all protective orders had expired; that no cases were pending between Mr. Fludd
and Ms. Kirkwood or the children; and that the children had “completed all court ordered
The circuit court held a hearing on Mr. Fludd’s motion on January 17, 2020.6
Kirkwood was represented by counsel and was not present at the hearing. The purpose of
the hearing was to establish a framework by which the reunification process could
continue. The court counseled both parties to continue therapy and appointed a child
privilege attorney to work through waiver of the children’s patient-therapist privilege.
On August 5, 2020, Ms. Kirkwood filed a motion requesting a hearing on the stillpending motion for child support and attorney’s fees. In the motion, Ms. Kirkwood alleged
that Mr. Fludd was currently employed, and that she “has not received child support from
[Mr. Fludd], if ever,” since prior to the filing of her motion for child support in 2016. Ms.
Kirkwood requested the court order Mr. Fludd to provide her with, among other things: a
copy of his tax returns for the prior three years; child support arrearages dating back to
2016; and attorney’s fees incurred over the prior four years.
A. Jurisdiction Over Child Custody Issues
Although the record before us does not convey when exactly Ms. Kirkwood and the
6Although Mr. Fludd captioned his filing as a motion to modify, given that Mr.
Fludd was arguing that he had completed the steps necessary to proceed with the
reunification process as set out in the child custody order, the circuit court recaptioned the
filing as a motion to enforce the order.
children relocated to Texas or when that fact was revealed to the court,7 on August 19,
2020, the circuit court entered an order requesting counsel to submit briefs outlining their
arguments on whether the Circuit Court for Montgomery County retained exclusive,
continuing jurisdiction over matters concerning custody of the children.
The court held a hearing on the issue on September 1, 2020. The parties and the
judge agreed that the Circuit Court for Montgomery County was divested of exclusive
continuing jurisdiction over the child custody issues in the case under the Maryland
Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (“UCCJEA”), Maryland Code
(1984, 2019 Repl. Vol.), Family Law Article (“FL”), §§ 9.5-101-318. This ruling was
memorialized in a written order on September 9, 2020. Ms. Kirkwood’s counsel raised the
issue of her client’s pending motion for child support, asserting that the circuit court
retained jurisdiction over these matters. The court deferred ruling on the issue and
requested additional briefing from the parties.
B. Jurisdiction Over Child Support Issues
As requested, in October 2020, Mr. Fludd and Ms. Kirkwood filed legal memoranda
regarding the court’s continuing jurisdiction over child support. Invoking Maryland Code
(1973, 2020 Repl. Vol.), Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article (“CJP”), § 6-103.1, Mr.
Fludd argued that the circuit court did not have personal jurisdiction over him because the
“case was filed as a [c]omplaint for custody,” and that complaint was dismissed by the
court on September 9th. Correspondingly, he claimed that the circuit court lacked
7 At the hearing on September 1, 2020, Mr. Fludd stated that he found out months
earlier, in February 2020, that Ms. Kirkwood had moved with the children to Texas.
jurisdiction to issue an initial support determination under UIFSA sections 10-304 and 10-
307. Additionally, Mr. Fludd argued that Texas had become the more convenient forum
to litigate the dispute.
Ms. Kirkwood responded that the circuit court did retain personal and subject matter
jurisdiction over the pending child support issues under the long-arm provision of the
UIFSA. She contended that Mr. Fludd had: (1) submitted to the circuit court’s jurisdiction
under FL § 10-304(a)(2) by filing a responsive pleading to her motion for child support;
(2) triggered FL § 10-304(a)(6) by engaging in sexual intercourse with Ms. Kirkwood in
Maryland; and (3) met the requirements for personal jurisdiction under a minimum contacts
analysis by “‘purposefully avail[ing] himself to the jurisdiction of [the] court by making
the choice to seek relief, including relief related to child support and financial matters, by
and through his various and multiple filings requesting such relief.” Ms. Kirkwood also
posited that, if the circuit court were to determine it had jurisdiction over the child support
matters, it also had jurisdiction over the award of attorney’s fees under FL § 12-103(a).8
8 FL § 12-103(a) states:
The court may award to either party the costs and counsel fees that are just
and proper under all the circumstances in any case in which a person:
(1) applies for a decree or modification of a decree concerning the
custody, support, or visitation of a child of the parties; or
(2) files any form of proceeding:
(i) to recover arrearages of child support;
(ii) to enforce a decree of child support; or
(iii) to enforce a decree of custody or visitation.
In further support of her argument, Ms. Kirkwood offered that the UCCJEA—the
statute that divested the court of jurisdiction over custody matters—specifies in its
definition section that it “does not include an order relating to child support[.]” FL § 9.5-
101(d)(3). Even if the court was not convinced of these grounds, Ms. Kirkwood noted that,
in her view, Mr. Fludd had waived any right to challenge personal jurisdiction when he
failed to raise the issue in his 2016 response to her motion for child support. Finally, Ms.
Kirkwood posited that the court had subject matter jurisdiction as she was a resident of
Montgomery County at the time she filed her initial child support motion and that the
circuit court was “the highest common-law and equity court of record exercising original
During oral argument, Mr. Fludd repeated the arguments contained in his
memorandum. He also represented that the Texas child support case had been scheduled
for a hearing, and, since the custody matters had been transferred to Texas, it was the proper
forum to litigate the child support case as well. Counsel for Ms. Kirkwood charged Mr.
Fludd with having filed the duplicate action “for the purposes of confusing the issues here.”
She urged the court to retain jurisdiction over the matter because it had been four years
since she first requested child support and a Texas court would not be able to assess the
accrued arrears and attorney’s fees.
Mr. Fludd also challenged Ms. Kirkwood’s argument that under FL § 10-304(a)(6)
Maryland retained jurisdiction over him because he did not agree that the children were
conceived in Maryland. Ms. Kirkwood testified in response that Mr. Fludd was the father
of the two children for which she was seeking support and that both children were
conceived in Montgomery County, Maryland.
On November 17, 2020, the judge issued a written order finding several bases for
the Circuit Court for Montgomery County’s continuing exercise of jurisdiction over the
child support case under the UIFSA long-arm statute, FL § 10-304(a). The court found
that Mr. Fludd submitted to jurisdiction by “ma[king] a general appearance defending
against the motion for Child Support, Attorney Fees, and Costs.” Additionally, the court
found that Mr. Fludd had submitted to the court’s jurisdiction by “filing a responsive
pleading” to Ms. Kirkwood’s initial child support motion. Finally, the judge credited Ms.
Kirkwood’s testimony that the children were conceived when she had sexual intercourse
with Mr. Fludd in Maryland. The court then set the matter in for a merits hearing on
December 2, 2020.
At the hearing, Ms. Kirkwood testified that she had not received any monetary
support or health insurance assistance for the children since she first requested child
support in September 2016. She also testified that she was “scared to ask” for child support.
She related, for example, that Mr. Fludd had disabled her car after she initially requested
child support. More fearsome, she said, was Mr. Fludd’s threat to kill her or kill their
children if she ever pursued child support. The court admitted several documents offered
through Ms. Kirkwood’s testimony relating to the parties’ incomes and Ms. Kirkwood’s
medical and childcare expenses. Additionally, the court received documents offered to
establish Ms. Kirkwood’s attorney’s fees in the amount of $22,180.60.
Mr. Fludd testified on his own behalf. He noted that he had an ongoing medical
condition that would greatly affect his income potential. He also related that he tried to
keep the matter out of court by offering support for the children but that those offers were
all rejected by Ms. Kirkwood. Mr. Fludd described his financial burdens, including his
obligation to pay private school tuition for a child not in common with Ms. Kirkwood.
The court heard closing arguments in the matter on December 3, 2020. The next
day, the judge dictated an oral ruling. Finding no reason to deviate from the Guidelines,
the court ordered Mr. Fludd to pay $2,101 per month in child support, effective January 1,
2021. The court further ordered Mr. Fludd to pay arrears for calendar year 2020 totaling
$25,212.00. While acknowledging that “in many ways” the ruling was a “windfall for Mr.
Fludd” because it did not require that he pay arrears dating back to 2016, the judge
explained that, given Mr. Fludd’s financial hardships, he wanted to ensure that Mr. Fludd
was “able to make these payments” and that “these kids receive it.” Finally, the court
ordered that Mr. Fludd pay $8,000 in attorney’s fees. The court issued a written order
memorializing these terms on December 15, 2020. Mr. Fludd noted a timely appeal on
January 13, 2021.
“The calculation of a child support award is governed by FL § 12-204. The statute
includes a schedule for the calculation of child support, commonly referred to as the
‘Guidelines,’ when the parties’ combined adjusted actual income ranges from $15,000 to
$180,000.” Kaplan v. Kaplan, 248 Md. App. 358, 386 (2020).
A. An Afterthought
Although the defense of laches was not raised before the circuit court, Mr. Fludd
now contends that that court was barred from considering the motion for child support
under the equitable doctrine of laches. He claims that laches was established, first, by the
court’s four-year “inexcusable delay” in considering Ms. Kirkwood’s motion; and second,
by the “obvious prejudice” inflicted upon him by the order to pay child support arrears,
which was “further exacerbated by the trial court’s award of [attorney’s] fees.”
Ms. Kirkwood counters that she “did not delay in exercising her rights” and that Mr.
Fludd “was not prejudiced by the trial court’s delay.” She submits that she “promptly
asserted her children’s rights to establish child support” by filing her motion on September
16, 2016. Moreover, Ms. Kirkwood refutes both the contention that the delay was
sufficient to constitute laches and the assertion that Mr. Fludd suffered prejudice by
pointing out that Mr. Fludd has an ongoing statutory duty to provide support for his minor
children until they reach the age of majority. Ms. Kirkwood avers that Mr. Fludd “has
neither provided any evidence demonstrating that he changed his position, relying on the
belief that [Ms. Kirkwood] would not pursue a child support award, nor asserted that he
lost evidence that would support his position that the trial court did not have jurisdiction to
issue a child support award.”
We note, with some degree of irony, that although the basis of Mr. Fludd’s laches
defense is the court’s delay in hearing the motion for child support, he failed to raise the
doctrine of laches until this appeal. Nevertheless, equitable defenses allow a court to
decline relief “for a stale claim after the facts are fully developed[.]” Balt. Cnty. v.
Glendale Corp., 219 Md. 465, 468 (1959). Therefore, even if not pled or argued, the
defense of laches can “be invoked by a court on its own initiative” when “equity demands.”
State Center, LLC v. Lexington Charles Ltd. P’ship, 438 Md. 451, 584-85 (2014) (citation
omitted). Here, we choose to evaluate Mr. Fludd’s laches argument not because we think
it has merit, but rather, because we think that it has none. We explain.
The question of whether laches bars an action presents a mixed question of law and
fact. Anderson v. Great Bay Solar I, LLC, 243 Md. App. 557, 611 (2019), cert. denied sub
nom. Bd. of Comm’rs of Somerset Cnty. v. Anderson, 468 Md. 224 (2020) (citation
omitted). Whether “the elements of laches have been established” is a question of fact.
Liddy v. Lamone, 398 Md. 233, 245 (2007). However, “the question of whether in view of
the established facts, laches should be invoked, is a question of law.” Id. at 246.
Our Court of Appeals has observed that laches is “an ancient defense in equity
against stale claims,” Fraternal Ord. of Police v. Montgomery Cnty., 446 Md. 490, 509
(2016), and “is based upon grounds of sound public policy by discouraging fusty demands
for the peace of society,” Ross v. State Bd. of Elections, 387 Md. 649, 668 (2005) (quoting
Parker v. Bd. of Election Supervisors, 230 Md. 126, 130 (1962)). See also Buxton v.
Buxton, 363 Md. 634, 645 (2001) (“[T]he word [‘laches’], itself, derives from the old
French word for laxness or negligence.”). This defense “applies when there is an
unreasonable delay in the assertion of one’s rights and that delay results in prejudice to the
opposing party.” Liddy, 398 Md. at 244 (quoting Frederick Rd. Ltd. P’ship v. Brown &
Sturm, 360 Md. 76, 117 (2000)). When evaluating whether a delay was reasonable, we
look to whether the party bringing the claim exercised “reasonable diligence” in asserting
their rights. State Ctr., LLC, 438 Md. at 610 (quoting Hall v. Clagett, 48 Md. 223, 243-44
(1878)). What constitutes prejudice in this context “depends upon the facts and
circumstances of each case, but it is generally held to be anything that places [a defendant]
in a less favorable position.” Parker, 230 Md. at 130-31.
In the instant case, the complaint for custody was filed in 2012, the initial motion
for child support was filed in 2016, and the hearing on the motion for child support occurred
in 2020. Mr. Fludd focuses his laches claim not on the four years between the filing of the
custody complaint and the initial claim for child support, but rather, on the four years that
elapsed between the date the initial child support claim was filed and the court’s hearing
on the claim. Mr. Fludd’s argument misses the mark because laches bars “the right to
assert a claim after the passage of time[.]” Parker, 230 Md. at 130 (emphasis added).
Here, Mr. Fludd challenges a delay that occurred after Ms. Kirkwood asserted her child
support claim. Moreover, as we next explain, the doctrine of laches is generally
inapplicable to child support claims.
The nature and purpose of some claims dictate that laches will rarely, if ever, apply.
For example, the Court of Appeals has, for decades, “expressed doubt about the
applicability of the laches defense in attorney grievance proceedings.” Att’y Grievance
Comm’n v. Goldsborough, 330 Md. 342, 356 (1993). This reservation emanates from the
underlying purpose of attorney grievance proceedings, which is to “protect the public.”
Att’y Grievance Comm’n v. Kahn, 290 Md. 654, 684 (1981). Given that the claim is
designed to protect the public, “dismissal of [a] disciplinary petition for the sole reason that
the Attorney Grievance Commission failed to proceed with the proper dispatch [would be]
manifestly unwarranted.” Id. The Court of Appeals recently clarified that “with the
possible exception of cases involving both extraordinary circumstances of delay and actual
prejudice resulting in a clear due process violation, applying the doctrine of laches to
attorney discipline proceedings would not be consistent with the goal of such
proceedings[.]” Att’y Grievance Comm’n v. Cassilly, __ Md. __, Misc. AG No. 31,
September Term 2020, at slip op. 32 (filed Oct. 22, 2021). Considering the purpose of
child support and child support arrears claims, this Court has similarly questioned whether
the defense of laches is available to bar recovery.
In Payne v. Prince George’s County Department of Social Services, the Department
filed a paternity action against Mr. Payne approximately four years after his child was born.
67 Md. App. 327, 329-32 (1986). The Department’s petition requested that the court order
Mr. Payne to pay for the mother’s childbirth costs and to pay support for the child. Id. at
329. About a year and a half after the action was filed, Mr. Payne responded, arguing,
among other things, that the proceeding was barred by laches. Id. at 330. The circuit court
determined that Mr. Payne was the child’s father and, after finding that laches and a statute
of limitations were not applicable to child support cases, ordered that he pay $834 in child
support arrears. Id. at 331.
In evaluating Mr. Payne’s laches argument on appeal, our predecessors noted:
“Whether laches applies at all in a paternity proceeding for child support may be
questioned. An infant who cannot legally bring suit himself or herself can scarcely be
accused of lack of diligence.” Id. at 338. Nevertheless, the Payne Court “assum[ed]” that
the doctrine of laches applied and considered “whether there is any indication on this record
of prejudice” to the appellant. Id. The Court concluded that appellant’s counsel “proffered
nothing that would remotely suggest delay-caused prejudice” to the appellant. Id. at 339.
Similarly, in Bland v. Larsen, we were asked to decide the applicability of laches to
a child support arrearage action brought fifteen years after the original custody order was
entered. 97 Md. App. 125, 132 (1993). There, we “[a]ssum[ed], without deciding, that the
doctrine of laches may be applied as a defense in an action based on arrearages of child
support payments[.]” Id. Accordingly, we considered the appellant’s allegations of
prejudice and held “that, under the circumstances of this case, the court did not err when it
refused to apply the doctrine.” Id. at 133. Specifically, we noted that the appellant “did
not testify that he remarried and had additional children because of [the appellee]’s
inaction” and that “[a]ny inability to prove payments is due entirely to [the appellant]’s
noncompliance with the court order.” Id. at 133-34.
Notwithstanding the contours of the doctrine of laches as applied to civil actions
generally, we see that the propriety of applying laches to child support arrearage claims is
narrow. Moreover, parents who raise the defense—regardless of how long the delay—to
bar prospective child support obligations may liken their prospects to a camel passing
through the eye of a needle.10 Ultimately, child support is awarded by the court for the
benefit of the child[ren]. See Guidash v. Tome, 211 Md. App. 725, 739 (2013) (holding
that “parents may not waive or bargain away a child’s right to receive support.”). As we
have explained, “the guiding principle in family law cases that involve children is the
children’s ‘indefeasible right’ to have their best interests fully considered, and the
boundaries of a court’s often broad discretion are tethered to the best interests of the child
standard[.]” Kaplan v. Kaplan, 248 Md. App. 358, 387-88 (2020) (citations omitted). The
10 The aphorism involving an “eye of a needle” is frequently used by judges and
legal commentators to describe exceedingly narrow openings in the law. See State v.
Wickes, 910 N.W.2d 554, 577 (Iowa 2018) (Appel, J., concurring) (“The unique features
of the case, however, were not intended to be and cannot be converted into a narrow,
mandatory set of criteria through which a case must pass through, like a camel through the
eye of a needle, to give rise to an as-applied challenge based on cruel and unusual
punishment.”); United States v. Glecier, 923 F.2d 496, 503 (7th Cir. 1991) (“Appellants
who challenge evidentiary rulings of the district court are like rich men who wish to enter
the Kingdom; their prospects compare with those of camels who wish to pass through the
eye of a needle.”); Simon Sobeloff, The Law of Business in the United States, 34 Or. L.
Rev. 145, 150-51 (1955) (The Supreme Court’s “jurisdiction is almost all together
discretionary and it is almost, though not quite, as difficult to get into that tribunal as,
according to the Bible, it is for a camel to go through the eye of the needle[.]”).
The phrase has a long and storied history, appearing first in each of the Synoptic
Gospels, Matthew 19:24, Mark 10:25, and Luke 18:25, where it is written that “[i]t is easier
for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom
of God.” Matthew 19:24 (King James). Emory University theology professor Fred
Craddock described the phrase as “a proverb about the humanly impossible.” Fred B.
Craddock, Interpretation: Luke (1990). The Babylonian Talmud contains a similar
reference to an “elephant going through the eye of a needle.” Babylonian Talmud,
Berakhot 55b. The theologian Louis Jacobs explained that the “substitution of elephant in
the popular proverb was no doubt due to the fact that this animal was far more frequently
found in Babylon.” Benjamin Williams, Gnats, Fleas, Flies, and a Camel, 107 Jewish Q.
Rev. 157, 160 n.9 (2017) (quotation omitted). In both instances, “[t]he adage conveys its
meaning by invoking the size of the largest animal familiar to Palestinian or Babylonian
audiences.” Id. at 160. The Qur’an forecasts that disbelievers will not enter paradise “until
a camel passes through the eye of a needle.” Qur’an 7:40.
parents of a minor child are “jointly and severally responsible for the child’s support, care,
nurture, welfare, and education.” FL § 5-203(b)(1). This obligation continues until the
child reaches the age of majority, or, if the child reaches the age of majority and is still
enrolled in secondary school, the obligation continues until one of the following events
(1) the individual dies;
(2) the individual marries;
(3) the individual is emancipated;
(4) the individual graduates from or is no longer enrolled in secondary
(5) the individual attains the age of 19 years.
Maryland Code (2014, 2019 Repl. Vol.), General Provisions Article (“GP”), § 1-401.
When determining the appropriateness of applying laches to a child support action,
courts must consider the best interest of the child and the parents’ continuing duty to
“support” and “care” for the child. A full century ago, the Court of Appeals recognized
that the failure of a mother to include a claim for child support in the original divorce decree
did not bar mother’s claim for child support years later, for a contrary result would have
been “opposed to a sound and just regard for the interest of society and the welfare of the
children, who, while not parties to the proceeding, are nevertheless profoundly affected by
its result.” Boggs v. Boggs, 138 Md. 422, 429 (1921).
In light of these precepts, and keeping in mind that laches is a defense premised on
“laxness” or “negligence,” Buxton, 363 Md. at 645, we strain to envision a case,
considering the unreasonableness of any delay and accrued prejudice to the parent, in
which laches would bar a child support claim. We agree with the Payne Court that “[a]n
infant who cannot legally bring suit . . . can scarcely be accused of lack of diligence.” 67
Md. App. at 338. We stop short of holding that laches may never be applied to a child
support claim, and determine, instead, that the defense is generally not applicable. Our
holding is in accord with Maryland precedent and the law of a majority of other
jurisdictions. We have identified 33 states, and the District of Columbia, that have
expressly addressed this issue. Of those jurisdictions, 28 have held that laches is either
heavily disfavored or completely unavailable in actions for child support or child support
11 A majority of states have held that laches is disfavored or unavailable in actions
for child support or child support arrears. See Mills v. Dailey, 38 So.3d 731, 736 (Ala. Civ.
App. 2008); State, Dep’t of Revenue, Child Support Enf’t Div. ex rel. Valdez v. Valdez, 941
P.2d 144, 152 (Alaska 1997); In re Marriage of Fellows, 138 P.3d 200, 201 (Cal. 2006);
In re Marriage of Johnson, 380 P.3d 150, 154-56 (Colo. 2016); Holmes v. Wooley, 792
A.2d 1018, 1023 (Del. Super. Ct. 2001); Logan v. Logan, 920 So. 2d 796, 798 (Fl. Dist.
Ct. App. 2006); Wynn v. Craven, 799 S.E.2d 172, 173 (Ga. 2017); State, Dep’t of Health
& Welfare ex rel. State of Wash. ex rel. Nicklaus v. Annen, 889 P.2d 720, 722 (Idaho 1995);
Knaus v. York, 586 N.E.2d 909, 914 (Ind. Ct. App. 1992); Strecker v. Wilkinson, 552 P.2d
979, 984-85 (Kan. 1976); Holmes v. Burke, 462 S.W.2d 915, 918 (Ky. Ct. App. 1971);
Gambino v. Gambino, 396 So.2d 434, 438 (La. Ct. App. 1981); Dunwoody v. Dunwoody,
155 A.3d 422, 425 (Me. 2017); Child Support Enf’t Div. of Alaska v. Brenckle, 675 N.E.2d
390, 396-97 (Mass. 1997); In re Marriage of Opp, 516 N.W.2d 193, 196-97 (Minn. Ct.
App. 1994); Miss. Dep’t of Human Servs. v. Molden, 644 So.2d 1230, 1234 (Miss. 1994);
Pfeifer v. Pfeifer, 301 P.3d 821, 823 (Mont. 2013); In re Estate of DeLara, 38 P.3d 198,
202 (N.M. Ct. App. 2001); Napowsa v. Langston, 381 S.E.2d 882, 887 (N.C. Ct. App.
1989); Patten v. Vose, 590 A.2d 1307, 1309-10 (Pa. Super. 1991); Ables v. Gladden, 664
S.E.2d 442, 445-46 (S.C. 2008); Tovsland v. Reub, 686 N.W.2d 392, 402-03 (S.D. 2004);
Tex. Att’y Gen. v. Daurbigny, 702 S.W.2d 298, 300-01 (Tex. App. 1985); Lyon v. Lyon,
466 A.2d 1186, 1188-89 (Vt. 1983); Taylor v. Taylor, 418 S.E.2d 900, 902 (Va. Ct. App.
1992); Robinson v. McKinney, 432 S.E.2d 543, 546 (W. Va. 1993); Paterson v. Paterson,
242 N.W.2d 907, 910 (Wis. 1976); Hammond v. Hammond, 14 P.3d 199, 201-03 (Wyo.
A minority of states do permit the use of laches in actions for child support or child
support arrears. See Chitwood v. Chitwood, 211 S.W.3d 547, 552 (Ark. Ct. App. 2005)
Here, child support was ordered for the benefit of Mr. Fludd’s minor children. At
the child support hearing, Ms. Kirkwood testified to the expenses that she incurred as the
sole provider for the children. The circuit court’s ruling makes clear that the support and
arrears were being awarded for “the benefit of the children.” Any delay in bringing and
adjudicating the underlying child support action could not have relieved Mr. Fludd of his
continuing statutory duty to support his minor children until they reach the age of majority
(or another qualifying event occurs) under GP § 1-401. Accordingly, we hold that the trial
court was not barred by the defense of laches from entering the order awarding child
support and attorney’s fees in this case.
Jurisdiction of Child Support and Other Financial Matters
A. Parties’ Contentions
Returning to the jurisdictional argument that he presented in the Circuit Court for
Montgomery County, Mr. Fludd contends that “[t]he trial court should have considered the
(“[E]nforcement of child-support judgments are treated the same as enforcement of other
judgments, and a child-support judgment is subject to the equitable defenses that apply to
all other judgments.”); Fromm v. Fromm, 948 A.2d 328, 333, 335 (Conn. App. Ct. 2008)
(holding that laches is available as a defense to child support actions, and finding the
plaintiff guilty of laches); Padgett v. Padgett, 472 A.2d 849, 850, 852 (D.C. 1984) (holding
“that laches is applicable generally to cases involving arrearages in court-ordered support
payments”); Merritt v. Merritt, 73 P.3d 878, 881-82 (Okla. 2003) (“[E]quitable defenses
may be invoked to bar the recovery of delinquent child support payments. . . . includ[ing]
the equitable doctrines of waiver, estoppel and laches.”); Veysey v. Veysey, 339 P.3d 131,
136, 136 n.6 (Utah Ct. App. 2014) (rejecting an argument that laches is inapplicable to
child support claims, because a state statute precluded the defenses of waiver and estoppel
but was silent about laches); In re Marriage of Capetillo, 932 P.2d 691, 693 (Wash. Ct.
App. 1997) (“In Washington, the equitable defense of laches may be applied to estop a
custodial parent from recovering past-due child support.”).
current status of the parties” instead of considering only facts that “occurred prior to the
filing of [Ms. Kirkwood’s] 2016 Motion for Child Support[.]” Mr. Fludd also avers that
the circuit court failed to consider several bases for the exercise of jurisdiction in Maryland
set out in FL § 10-304(a). It appears that Mr. Fludd reads the long-arm statute to require
that courts consider all seven bases for jurisdiction and determine whether a majority of
those bases have been satisfied. Specifically, he points out that § 10-304(a)(3) was not
satisfied as he did not reside in Maryland with the children; § 10-304(a)(4) was not satisfied
as he “did not reside in the State, and did not provide . . . support for the child”; and § 10-
304(a)(5) was not satisfied as the children do not live outside of Maryland as a “result of
the acts or directives of the individual.”
In response, Ms. Kirkwood contends that the circuit court did not err in finding that
it had personal jurisdiction over Mr. Fludd for child support and attorney’s fees. She avers
that under FL § 10-304(a), the circuit court could invoke jurisdiction after an affirmative
finding on any of the seven articulated bases. Ms. Kirkwood argues that the court properly
found that Mr. Fludd “made a general appearance and filed a responsive pleading to [her]
Motion for Child Support . . . pursuant to § 10-304(a)(2).” In her view, the circuit court
also properly found that Mr. Fludd had engaged in sexual intercourse with her in Maryland
and that their children may have been conceived from those acts, satisfying § 10-304(a)(7).
Mr. Fludd’s principal challenge on appeal is to the circuit court’s exercise of
jurisdiction over the child support case under the UISFA long-arm statute. We examined
the statute in Friedetzky v. Hsia, 223 Md. App. 723, 733-736, 742-47 (2015), and draw
extensively from that opinion in our analysis here. Circumstances presented in the instant
case, however, allow us to begin our analysis with the doctrine of continuing jurisdiction—
here, under CJP § 6-103.1—and then determine whether jurisdiction over the case in
Maryland may continue under the UISFA long-arm statute.
CJP § 6-103.1
We begin our two-step analysis with Maryland’s statute governing jurisdiction over
nonresidents relating to child support, spousal support, or counsel fees:
A court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant in
any civil proceeding arising out of the marital relationship or involving a
demand for child support, spousal support, or counsel fees if the plaintiff
resides in this State at the time suit is filed and the nonresident defendant has
been personally served with process in accordance with the Maryland Rules
(1) This State was the matrimonial domicile of the parties
immediately before their separation; or
(2) The obligation to pay child support, spousal support, or
counsel fees arose under the laws of this State or under an
agreement executed by one of the parties in this State.
CJP § 6-103.1. We observe that CJP § 6-103.1 is permissive rather than exclusive;
meaning, that a court may exercise personal jurisdiction if the provisions are satisfied, but
personal jurisdiction is not necessarily precluded if its provisions are not satisfied. See
Friedetzky, 223 Md. App. at 744 n.17. In Friedetzky, we examined, briefly, the doctrine
of continuing jurisdiction, which, we explained,
stands for the proposition that when a state obtains personal jurisdiction over
a party in an action, that jurisdiction continues throughout all subsequent
proceedings that arise out of the original cause of action, even if one of
the parties moves out of state in the interim. [Glading v. Furman, 282
Md. 200, 204 (1978)] (quoting Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws §
26 (1971)) (quotation marks omitted). The doctrine is rooted in the rationale
that without continuing jurisdiction, a court may not ever be able to render a
final judgment if one of the parties, despite being properly served within
Maryland, then removes himself or herself “while proceedings arising out of
the original cause of action yet remained to be resolved.” Id. Existing
personal jurisdiction is a necessary component to the continuing jurisdiction
Id. at 747-48 (bold emphasis added) (italics in original). In applying the continuing
jurisdiction rule, the nonresident defendant, over whom personal jurisdiction has been
initially obtained, must “be given reasonable notice and opportunity to be heard in each
subsequent proceeding if an in personam decree is to be rendered against him.” Glading,
282 Md. at 209. The continuing jurisdiction doctrine did not apply in Friedetzky because
“Appellee did not live in Maryland, was not served in Maryland, and the Maryland courts
did not obtain personal jurisdiction over Appellee in any prior proceeding.” Friedetzky,
223 Md. App. at 748.
Unlike the appellee in Friedetzky, Mr. Fludd lived in Maryland when the complaint
for custody was filed in 2012. He then answered and vigorously contested the relief
requested, even after he later moved to the District of Columbia. The 500+ docket entries
reveal that he filed numerous motions and pleadings for affirmative relief. Most
significantly, Mr. Fludd filed a response to Ms. Kirkwood’s motion for child support in
2016. In that response, he asked the court to enter a judgment in his favor awarding him
“fees incurred in this matter.” He also requested that the court order Ms. Kirkwood to
“complete an Abuser Intervention Program” and “pay for half the expenses for
reunification therapy.” Although the court did not rule on the motion until December 15,
2020, it did so only after Mr. Fludd was given the opportunity to submit memoranda and
to be heard over three hearings on three separate dates.
We conclude that Mr. Fludd’s “obligation to pay child support . . . arose under the
laws of this State,” CJP § 6-103.1(2), and that he was given “reasonable notice and
opportunity to be heard,” Glading, 282 Md. at 209. Accordingly, on December 15, 2020,
the circuit court had continuing jurisdiction over Mr. Fludd in the child support case.
FL § 10-304
Maryland adopted the UIFSA in 1997. Friedetzky, 223 Md. App. at 735 n.12. This
statutory scheme establishes “procedural and jurisdictional rules for interstate child support
proceedings,” Superior Court v. Ricketts, 153 Md. App. 281, 319 (2003), but “does not
address custody,” Friedetzky, 223 Md. App. at 735. The UIFSA seeks to eliminate “the
problems stemming from multiple child support orders issued by different states relating
to one child and does so by implementing a ‘one-order system’ whereby only one state’s
order governs the support obligation at any given time.” Id. (citing Ricketts, 153 Md. App.
When evaluating whether “a Maryland court may exercise personal jurisdiction over
a non-resident defendant” under the UIFSA, a court must consider: “(1) whether [the] longarm statute has been satisfied; and (2) whether the exercise of jurisdiction comports with
due process.” Id. at 732 (citing Bond v. Messerman, 391 Md. 706, 721 (2006)). The UIFSA
long-arm statute articulates seven potential bases on which a court may exercise personal
jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant regarding a child support or paternity claim:
(a) In a proceeding to establish or enforce a support order or to determine
parentage of a child, a tribunal of this State may exercise personal
jurisdiction over a nonresident individual . . . if:
(1) the individual is personally served within this State;
(2) the individual submits to the jurisdiction of this State by consent in a
record, by entering a general appearance, or by filing a responsive
document having the effect of waiving any contest to personal
(3) the individual resided with the child in this State;
(4) the individual resided in this State and provided prenatal expenses or
support for the child;
(5) the child resides in this State as a result of the acts or directives of the
(6) the individual engaged in sexual intercourse in this State and the child
may have been conceived by that act of intercourse; or
(7) there is any other basis consistent with the constitutions of this State
and the United States for the exercise of personal jurisdiction.
FL § 10-304 (emphasis added). This language was written to be “as broad as
constitutionally permissible.” Friedetzky, 223 Md. App. at 743 (citing Unif. Interstate
Family Support § 201 cmt., 9 U.L.A. Part IB, at 185). When interpreting a statute, we
assume “that the [L]egislature’s intent is expressed in the statutory language and thus our
statutory interpretation focuses primarily on the language of the statute[.]” Philips v. State,
451 Md. 180, 196 (2017). Here, the bases for exercising jurisdiction under the UIFSA’s
long-arm statute—FL §10-304—are separated by semi-colons and, finally, the conjunction
“or,” which is “[u]sed to indicate an alternative[.]” SVF Riva Annapolis, LLC v. Gilroy,
459 Md. 632, 642 (2018) (quoting The American Heritage Dictionary of the English
Language 1236 (4th ed. 2006)). “Maryland courts have interpreted ‘or’ consistently with
its disjunctive meaning.” Id. Accordingly, we hold that a trial court need only find one
basis among the seven listed under the UIFSA long-arm statute in order to exercise
jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant.
Our holding in Friedetzky serves as a helpful guide in determining whether the
circuit court properly applied the long-arm statute of the UIFSA in the underlying case. In
Friedetzky, after being served out of state with a custody suit, appellee entered a general
line of appearance and an answer requesting “that the petition be dismissed with prejudice
or denied, and that the court order genetic testing to determine the paternity” of the child.
Friedetzky, 223 Md. App. at 728. After appellant filed an amended petition requesting that
the court establish paternity, custody, child support, and attorney’s fees, appellee filed a
motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and withdrew his request for genetic
testing. Id. at 729. Appellee, a non-resident, argued that the circuit court did not have
personal jurisdiction over him in proceedings pertaining to paternity, child support, or
attorney’s fees as none of the grounds for exercising jurisdiction under UIFSA’s long-arm
statute were satisfied. Id. The court awarded custody to appellant but found that it did not
have jurisdiction over the pending parentage, support, and fee actions. Id. at 730-31.
Appellant appealed and, among other things, sought review of whether appellee waived his
ability to contest the exercise of jurisdiction under the UIFSA. Id. at 731-32.
We reversed. Id. at 750. Although we noted that “the UCCJEA provides limited
immunity to nonresidents participating in a child custody proceeding in this State, such that
the nonresident does not submit to personal jurisdiction for other matters solely by
participating in the custody action,” we concluded that appellee’s “affirmative request for
paternity. . . was not encompassed as part of a ‘child custody proceeding’” under the
UCCJEA. Id. at 736-39. Therefore, this affirmative request, “coupled with his efforts to
obtain discovery,” invoked the circuit court’s jurisdiction under the long-arm statute of the
UIFSA—FL 10-304(a)(2). Id. at 746-47. We remanded to the circuit court and noted,
“[a]s the old adage goes, one cannot un-ring a bell: once Appellee invoked the court’s
jurisdiction by requesting paternity testing, he could not retract it, deciding, instead, to
move to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.” Id. at 747.
In the case now before us, the circuit court correctly determined that by filing a
response to Ms. Kirkwood’s initial motion for child support and attorney’s fees, Mr. Fludd
invoked the court’s jurisdiction under FL § 10-304(a)(2). The response was captioned, in
relevant part, “Respondent[’]s Pro Se Response and Motion to Strike or in the Alternative
Dismiss Plaintiff[’]s ‘Motion for Child Support [. . . .]”12
(italic emphasis added,
capitalization omitted). The response addressed the merits of Ms. Kirkwood’s motion,
qualifying it not only as a responsive pleading but also as a general appearance. See
McCormick v. St. Francis de Sales Church, 219 Md. 422, 429 (1959) (“[T]he filing of the
motion operated as a general appearance[.]”); Pilkington v. Pilkington, 230 Md. App. 561,
581 (2016) (A party makes a general appearance by “contest[ing] an action without
12 We note that most of Mr. Fludd’s subsequent requests of the court pertained to
child custody and visitation. These filings fall within the UCCJEA, which provides limited
personal jurisdiction immunity for nonresidents participating in child custody proceedings
in Maryland. See FL § 9.5-108(a) (“A party to a child custody proceeding . . . is not subject
to personal jurisdiction in this State for another proceeding or purpose solely by reason of
having participated, or of having been physically present for the purposes of participating
in the [child custody] proceeding.”) (emphasis added). Therefore, we have not considered
these requests in evaluating whether the circuit court had jurisdiction over Mr. Fludd under
the UIFSA long-arm statute.
objecting to the court’s personal jurisdiction.”). Among other things, Mr. Fludd argued in
the response that he was already paying child support by remitting a portion of his monthly
disability payments to Ms. Kirkwood, and that, due to continued abusive filings by Ms.
Kirkwood, she should pay for any fees generated by the litigation.
Mr. Fludd’s response affirmatively requested the following relief from the court:
(1) Grant [his] Motions[;] (2) Order, that [Ms. Kirkwood] take and complete
an Abuser Intervention Program[;] (3) Order that [Ms. Kirkwood] continue
the reunification therapy process with the minor children immediately[;] (4)
Order that [Ms. Kirkwood] pay for half the expenses for reunification
therapy[;] (5) Find that the Disability payments are child support for the
minor children[;] (6) Find and [order], that [Ms. Kirkwood] shall be
responsible for any fees incurred by [Mr. Fludd] in this matter since January
1, 2016[;] (7) Enter a judgment against [Ms. Kirkwood] . . . for the new award
of fees incurred in this matter; and (8) Such other relief as this [c]ourt deems
(Paragraph breaks omitted).
We hold that FL § 10-304(a)(2) was satisfied when Mr. Fludd filed a responsive
pleading, entered a general appearance, and affirmatively requested relief from the court.
Once Mr. Fludd submitted to the court’s jurisdiction under FL § 10-304(a)(2), he could not
“un-ring [the jurisdictional] bell.” Friedetzky, 223 Md. App. at 747. Accordingly, the
circuit court correctly determined that it was able to exercise jurisdiction over Mr. Fludd
under the UIFSA long-arm statute.
Although our jurisdictional inquiry under the UIFSA could end there, we hold that
another prong of the UIFSA’s long-arm statute—FL § 10-304(a)(6)—was satisfied when
the circuit court credited Ms. Kirkwood’s testimony that the children were conceived in
Montgomery County, Maryland. We note that Mr. Fludd did not offer any testimony or
cross-examination of Ms. Kirkwood’s testimony. He merely noted that he did not agree
Outcome: We conclude, therefore, that the court’s finding that Ms. Kirkwood and Mr. Fludd
engaged in sexual intercourse in Maryland, and that their children may have been
conceived as a result, was not clearly erroneous.13