‘Sister Wives’: How is the Brown Family Legal if Polygamy Isn’t?

TLC’s popular show Sister Wives follows Kody Brown and his Polygamist family. In the most recent season, the Browns have moved to Flagstaff, Arizona, where they purchased a plot of land and have plans to build one massive home (though the women don’t want it as much as Kody does). But the Browns have had several run-ins with the police, since Polygamy isn’t legal in any of the 50 United states. But if that’s the case, how can the Brown family live the way they do?

Sister wives
Kody Brown and his wives in 2012 | Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Polygamy is the idea of having multiple wives

Very few people in the U.S. practice polygamy, as it has technically been outlawed since 1852. At one point, though, it was practiced by roughly a quarter of the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (commonly known as Mormons). Polygamist families consist of one husband who married several wives, though the number of wives isn’t always the same. In the case of the Sister Wives family, Kody was married to four women at once (Meri, Janelle, Christine, and Robyn) before he and Meri legally divorced in 2014. Today, Meri remains a part of the family despite the couple’s divorce. 

The Brown family has been involved with the police over their lifestyle

Though the Brown family has their own TLC show and isn’t shy about their lifestyle, it has put them into tough situations in the past. Some of the family’s neighbors haven’t been so accepting of their lifestyle. A while back, Kody decided to move his family to Las Vegas, where they settled into a cul de sac of four homes; each woman lived in her own home with her children, and the setup seemed to work for them. However, Kody then uprooted the family once more after buying a massive plot of land in Arizona. And in a sneak peek of the new season, the police were called within days of their arrival.

Kody’s only current legal marriage is with Robyn

If polygamy is illegal in the U.S., how can the Brown family live the way they do? Well, Kody is technically only married to one woman. Back in 1990, he legally married his first wife, Meri. Then, in 1993, he spiritually married Janelle; the two aren’t legally married. In 1994, he spiritually married Christine; they don’t have a legal marriage, either. And in 2010, he spiritually married Robyn. However, after he and Meri were legally divorced in 2014, Kody legally married Robyn so that he could adopt her children. The Brown family found the loophole — though they behave like a Polygamist family, Kody is only truly married to one of them.

It looks like trouble is heading toward the family in Arizona

TLC recently showed a “first look” at the new season of Sister Wives, which premieres in January. Kody has uprooted the family, and they’re settling into their temporary homes in Flagstaff, Arizona. Kody purchased a massive plot of land and is hoping to convince his wives to build one big house for the family to live in. But a preview of the new season shows the police being called to the Brown home. The Browns then discuss that they are worried about feeling unwelcome in their new neighborhood after the neighbors reportedly called the police on them.

Fans will have to wait and see how the run-in with police pans out for the family when the new season premieres on January 5 at 10 p.m. ET.