Kody Brown's Evolution To Controversial Sister Wives Star

TLC's hit series about polygamist Kody Brown has been making headlines from the moment it premiered back in 2010. Indeed, the disturbing truth behind "Sister Wives" and its cast, paired with endless controversies (remember Meri Brown's catfishing scandal?) and tragic details, has given folks plenty to talk about. Viewers have scrutinized every aspect of the family, from their up-and-down relationships (PSA: Christine Brown was never a fan of Robyn) to the lives of the Brown children and even where the cast lives now. And while most of the Browns have been placed under a microscope, it's Kody Brown who's gotten the most criticism.

Interestingly, the patriarch who introduced America to the realities of being a polygamist has previously admitted to having doubts about his controversial lifestyle choice. Back in 2021, he actually told Us Weekly, "Every polygamous man has thought to himself how wonderful [monogamy] might be. You know, 'The grass is greener.'" However, despite such doubts, he's stuck to his beliefs and, in doing so, has continued to become increasingly controversial. Here's how Kody Brown went from a child growing up in a monogamous home to an adult with four wives and endless backlash.

Kody Brown learned of polygamy as a teen

Kody Winn Brown was born on January 17, 1969, to William Winn Brown and Genielle Tew, who were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Kody's parents didn't initially practice polygamy because the Mormon Church banned it back in 1890. However, that all changed when Kody was a teen, and his father decided to stray from the doctrine by marrying a second wife, Bobbie, and then a third, Sheryl. The family continued to live on William's ranch in Byron, Wyoming, as it grew to include 10 children (via Fandom).

When William died in 2013, his obituary revealed additional details about the kind of man who raised the future reality TV star. As it turns out, William graduated from high school in 1952 and spent two years in the U.S. Army Rangers. He then served the LDS Church for two years before going back to school to earn a degree in agricultural economics from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. According to the obituary, "Winn's life was centered around the principles of the restored gospel," and "[he] was a true cowboy, who never met a stranger." 

William sadly lost one of his sons, Curtis Taylor Brown, just two months before his own death, but he was survived by his three wives, as well as Kody, and his nine siblings: Cindy Hansen, Scott Allan Brown, Lorilyn Beck, Christine King, Tricia Lee Garner, Travis Merrill Brown, Leah Nicole Lundquist, and William Michael Brown.

Kody Brown's life before the show

Before TLC launched "Sister Wives" in 2010 and made Kody Brown a reality TV star, he was a veritable Jack of all trades. In fact, Kody held many different jobs during the early decades of his life, dipping his toes into professions as varied as a lumberjack and a traveling salesman. Unfortunately, it seems Kody struggled to keep a solid gig for long, and when the show premiered, he offered vague details about his employment history. He claimed he had been working in internet ad sales but decided to quit his job when TLC came knocking.

What we know for sure is that in 2005 he was working as a salesman at a sign shop in Billings, Montana, and making $4,000 a month. This was revealed in legal documents he and his first wife Meri Brown submitted when filing for bankruptcy in June 2005. As Radar discovered, Kody and Meri claimed they had just $10 in cash and $5 in the bank and could therefore not pay off their debt of $229,873.49. Unfortunately for them, a judge ruled in 2007 that they owed $187,885.74 "to secured creditors, trustees, and attorneys." 

In addition to shaking up his finances, Kody's April 1990 marriage to Meri also had another life-changing impact: It gave him the OK to embrace polygamy. As InTouch notes, Meri grew up in a polygamous family and so, the couple decided early on that their marriage would include more than one wife, paving the way for "Sister Wives."

He's only legally married to one of his wives

Kody Brown may have had four wives when "Sister Wives" first premiered in 2010, but legally, he only had one. Kody was introduced to his first wife, Meri Brown, through his sister in October 1989, per InTouch, and they were engaged two months later. They then tied the knot in April 1990, per Us Weekly. Because polygamy is banned in all 50 states, Kody's next three weddings (to Janelle Brown in January 1993, Christine Brown in March 1994, and Robyn Brown in December 2014) were simply spiritual unions. The fact that Kody was only legally married to Meri caused problems in 2014 when he wanted to adopt his fourth wife Robyn's three kids from a previous marriage. In the end, he and Meri actually divorced so they could, as he told ABC News, "legally restructure our family." Kody legally married Robyn that same year and adopted her kids.

As InTouch explains, Kody and his wives are Fundamentalist Mormons who believe that God ordered their founder, Joseph Smith, to have multiple wives and so, God wants all families to be polygamous. They see their spiritual unions as binding and, interestingly, all wives must be monogamous to their husband. Explaining why he was drawn to polygamy, Kody wrote in a 2011 blog post (via Us Weekly), "We have chosen to live in a plural family for many reasons, above all we have a testimony that this is what God wants us to do, and that it will make us better people."

Did Kody Brown face bigamy charges in Utah?

When Kody Brown first began living a polygamous lifestyle, he kept it under wraps. However, that was no longer possible once TLC exposed his life. Just days before the "Sister Wives" premiere in September 2010, ABC News learned that Utah police were investigating the Brown family to see if bigamy charges were warranted. As Reuters explained, bigamy is a felony in Utah that carries a maximum five-year prison sentence. However, the outlet also noted that "polygamists are rarely prosecuted unless they've committed so-called collateral crimes like child abuse or welfare fraud." In the end, no charges were filed, and the case was closed in June 2012 because there was no evidence of additional crimes (via People).

Notably, the family didn't wait to hear the verdict. Rather, they packed up and moved from Utah to Nevada in the middle of the night in January 2011, per The Hollywood Reporter. Speaking with Oprah in 2015, Kody said that he and his wives feared they would face felony bigamy charges that would send them all to jail and so, they had to take drastic measures. "We did not know how aggressive the district attorney would be, so we didn't want him finding out that we were leaving the state," he explained. Once they were near Las Vegas, the family moved into four separate homes and stayed there through 2018 when they moved to Flagstaff, Arizona, with the plan to live on one large property, per InTouch.

Kody Brown and his wives sued the state of Utah

Shortly after Kody Brown learned that he and his family were being investigated by Utah police in 2010, the reality stars fought back by filing a lawsuit against the state in 2011. As The New York Times reported, they argued that Utah's current polygamy laws were unconstitutional and violated parts of the first and fourteenth amendments. While they didn't ask the state to make polygamous marriages legal, they did claim that consenting adults should be allowed to do as they pleased. 

"We only wish to live our private lives according to our beliefs," Brown said at the time. Jump to 2013 and US District Judge Clark Waddoups sided with the Browns, per The Salt Lake Tribune, ruling that "key parts of Utah's polygamy laws are unconstitutional." Waddoups concluded that multiple marriages could remain illegal but that cohabitation should be decriminalized, per InTouch.

Unfortunately for the Browns, the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit overturned Waddoups' verdict in 2016. The ruling judges concluded that there was no need to change Utah's laws because the state doesn't pursue polygamy charges unless other crimes are involved. As such, the judges concluded the policy posed no credible threat to the Brown family. The Browns tried to appeal again, but the US Supreme Court struck down their efforts for good in 2017.

Kody Brown is related to two of his wives

In addition to stirring up controversy with their polygamous lifestyle, Kody Brown and two of his wives, Janelle and Christine Brown, have also made headlines for an even more shocking reason: They're related! According to his obituary, Kody Brown's dad, William Winn Brown, had three wives when he died in 2013, including Sheryl who is, per Radar, Janelle's mother. 

While that means they aren't related by blood, it technically makes Kody and Janelle step-siblings. Explaining how that came to be, Janelle told fans of the show that she had known Kody's family before they ever began dating. Because of that, their parents met and formed their own union. "My mom was worried I was getting sucked into some polygamous cult, but she ended up meeting Kody's dad, and they ended up falling in love and getting married before Kody and I started courting," she explained.

Notably, this isn't the only extra-familial tie between Kody and his spouses. In fact, Kody is also distantly related to Christine. As Radar discovered by doing some digging on Ancestry, they're actually distant cousins. Breaking down their family connection, the outlet notes that it all starts with a couple named William Moore Allred and Orissa Angela Bates, who had kids Nelson Calvert Allred and Byron Harvey Allred Jr. On the one hand, Nelson went on to have Daisy Josephine Allred who had Kody's mom, Geneille. On the other hand, Byron had Rulon Clark who had Christine's dad, Rex Clerk. This means that Kody and Christine are third cousins.

Kody Brown's real estate decisions have left his finances in shambles

It's not easy trying to provide for four families, and Kody Brown's real estate decisions have left his finances in shambles. It all began in 2018 when the family moved from Nevada to Flagstaff, Arizona, per The Sun

After scouring legal documents, the outlet discovered that Brown had shelled out $1.8 million on new properties for his wives, including an $890,000 home for Robyn, a $520,000 home for Christine, and $820,000 on a piece of land called Coyote Pass. What's more, Meri was renting a $4,500/month home while Janelle was dropping $2,900 a month for her abode. As Brown explained in "Sister Wives," "We're paying four, no five mortgages with the Coyote Pass property." That was clearly too much and, in 2021, Brown and Robyn asked for a $130,000 home loan, per The Sun, while owing property taxes.

Making matters worse was that the family had trouble offloading their four Nevada homes. As Janelle confessed on the show in 2019 (via InTouch), "There's been no interest in [them]." In the end, they were forced to sell them for significantly less than the initial asking prices. The last property to go was Christine's, which sold in October 2019 after a year on the market and a big pay cut, per Radar. As the outlet noted, it was originally listed for sale in July 2018 at $675,000 but they closed in September 2019 for $535,000 i.e. $140,000 less than they wanted.

The entire Brown family has been forced to file for bankruptcy

Given the Brown family's financial troubles, it's no big surprise that Kody Brown and all of his wives have been forced to file for bankruptcy through the years. Starcasm was able to uncover a slew of legal documents which show that Janelle Brown was the first to do so back in 1997, claiming she had a monthly income of $388 but $20,387.02 in debt. Kody Brown and Meri Brown then filed their own claim in 2005 and, in 2010, Christine Brown filed for bankruptcy just months before "Sister Wives" premiered. 

She reported her monthly income as being $2,311.32 while her debt clocked in at $25,712.14. She also stated that she had used food stamps in 2009 and 2010. According to some critics, however, their filings are part of a master plan to game the system. "These people are scamming every which way," "Follow the Prophet" producer Laurie Allen told CNN. "They rotate the wives around — one files one year, a couple years later another one," she claimed. "They shift the debt around."

Even so, the family's money troubles are very real. Although many television viewers might assume that the reality TV world is made of money, how much money the stars of "Sister Wives" actually make may surprise you. They're reportedly so strapped for cash that when TLC considered canceling "Sister Wives" after season 11, Kody agreed to a huge pay cut in order to stay on the air. Apparently, the patriarch suggested that instead of paying each adult $180,000 per season, the network could pay them a total of $180,000 per season.

Kody Brown's strained relationship with his kids

Kody Brown has a whopping 18 children, including three whom he adopted from Robyn Brown's previous marriage: Dayton, Aurora, and Breanna. As Us Weekly notes, Kody and his first wife, Meri Brown, had just one child, Leon. However, he then had six kids with Janelle Brown — Logan, Madison, Hunter, Robert Garrison, Gabriel, and Savannah — and six with Christine Brown — Paedon, Aspyn, Mykelti, Gwendlyn, Ysabel and Truely. He and Robyn also have two kids of their own, Solomon and Ariella.

If you're wondering how Kody can possibly carve out enough quality time for everyone, the truth is he doesn't. As he revealed on "Sister Wives" in 2022 (via Today), he's not a hands-on dad. "I'm good at watching my kids, but I almost never do it," he said. "It's easier for me to pay somebody $20 an hour than to lose $200 an hour with the business that I have at hand."

Given said sentiment, it's no wonder some of his father-child relationships are strained. For example, when he failed to accompany Ysabel to surgery in 2021, she admitted, "I think his priorities are a little screwed up" (via Us Weekly). Meanwhile, Paedon told Us Weekly, "There are times when he's the absolute best [and] there are times when he's the absolute worst." Then there are Gabriel and Garrison, with whom he's no longer speaking, per Us Weekly, and Mykelti who proclaimed (via Us Weekly), "I was honestly relieved when I heard my mom was leaving my dad."

Kody Brown was kicked out of his church

Kody Brown may be completely devoted to his faith, but the feeling isn't mutual. In 2017, he and his family (including all of his wives and children) were kicked out of their Apostolic United Brethren Church, per RadarOnline. According to an insider who spoke with the outlet, the growing public scandal surrounding the Browns was simply too much for the community to handle. Allegedly, Meri Brown's 2015 catfishing scandal was the final straw and so, "the church elders told Kody that he would never be welcomed back, even if the family moved back to Utah." The source explained that they could no longer accept how the Browns were portraying them. "A lot of people in the faith think that this has become a straight-up reality TV show for ratings," they said.

Indeed, when Madison Brown tried to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2015, she was rejected. As she revealed on an episode of "Sister Wives" (via InTouch), "They called me and said it was too contradictory and they hope I reconsider [joining the church] when we're not such a public family." Her mom, for one, wasn't surprised by the decision. Taking to Twitter, she wrote that all "Fundamentalist kids have a hard time joining mainstream LDS Church without distancing themselves from their families."