Fludd v. Kirkwood, 1297, Sept. Term, 2020

CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland
Writing for the CourtLeahy, J.
Citation265 A.3d 1169,253 Md.App. 329
Parties Anthony FLUDD v. Donielle KIRKWOOD
Docket NumberNo. 1297, Sept. Term, 2020,1297, Sept. Term, 2020
Decision Date16 December 2021

253 Md.App. 329
265 A.3d 1169

Anthony FLUDD
v.
Donielle KIRKWOOD

No. 1297, Sept. Term, 2020

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland.

December 16, 2021


Argued by: Johnine N. Clark (Law Offices of Johnine Clark, PA, on the brief), Greenbelt, MD, for Appellant.

Argued by: Maura L. Lynch (Elizabeth Danquah-Brobby, RLG Law, on the brief), Rockville, MD, for Appellee.

Panel: Arthur, Leahy, Deborah S. Eyler (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.

Leahy, J.

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

265 A.3d 1173

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:1

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.

BACKGROUND

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 counter-complaint 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 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

265 A.3d 1174

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 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, 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 activities."

The circuit court held a hearing on Mr. Fludd's motion on January 17, 2020.6 Ms.

265 A.3d 1175

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 still-pending 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 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...

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3 practice notes
  • Reyes v. State, 1092, Sept. Term, 2020
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • January 26, 2022
    ...laches must show prejudice resulting from the delay. Jones v. State , 445 Md. 324, 329, 126 A.3d 1162 (2015) ; Fludd v. Kirkwood , 253 Md.App. 329, 265 A.3d 1169, No. 1297, September Term 2020, at slip op. 14 (filed Dec. 16, 2021) ; Anderson v. Great Bay Solar I, LLC , 243 Md. App. 557, 610......
  • In re W.W., 1287, Sept. Term, 2020
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • December 16, 2021
    ...Appeals has recognized that "[a] critical factor in determining what is in the best interest of a child is the desire for permanency 265 A.3d 1169 in the child's life." In re Adoption of Jayden G. , 433 Md. 50, 82, 70 A.3d 276 (2013). Mother contends that the court's order of gene......
  • Belt v. Chambers, 674-2019
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • August 23, 2022
    ...recently instructed that "the propriety of applying laches to child support arrearage claims is narrow." Fludd v. Kirkwood, 253 Md.App. 329, 265 A.3d 1169, 1180 (2021). In Fludd, we explained that "[w]hen determining the appropriateness of applying laches to a child support a......
3 cases
  • Reyes v. State, 1092, Sept. Term, 2020
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • January 26, 2022
    ...laches must show prejudice resulting from the delay. Jones v. State , 445 Md. 324, 329, 126 A.3d 1162 (2015) ; Fludd v. Kirkwood , 253 Md.App. 329, 265 A.3d 1169, No. 1297, September Term 2020, at slip op. 14 (filed Dec. 16, 2021) ; Anderson v. Great Bay Solar I, LLC , 243 Md. App. 557, 610......
  • In re W.W., 1287, Sept. Term, 2020
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • December 16, 2021
    ...Appeals has recognized that "[a] critical factor in determining what is in the best interest of a child is the desire for permanency 265 A.3d 1169 in the child's life." In re Adoption of Jayden G. , 433 Md. 50, 82, 70 A.3d 276 (2013). Mother contends that the court's order of gene......
  • Belt v. Chambers, 674-2019
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • August 23, 2022
    ...recently instructed that "the propriety of applying laches to child support arrearage claims is narrow." Fludd v. Kirkwood, 253 Md.App. 329, 265 A.3d 1169, 1180 (2021). In Fludd, we explained that "[w]hen determining the appropriateness of applying laches to a child support a......

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