Who is ‘Sister Wives’ Kody Brown married to? His legal and unofficial marriages, explained

Sister Wives promo
Image via TLC

Legal wives, sister wives, plural marriage, spiritual unions—it can all get a little confusing to the untrained eye. Sister Wives‘ Kody Brown up until recently had four wives, but many viewers are still unclear about how the whole thing worked, or in the case of Christine, didn’t work. We are breaking it down to explain how America’s favorite polygamist family really operates.

First and foremost polygamy is technically illegal, so let’s start there. Having multiple legal spouses is a criminal offense that is both chargeable and can actually come with jail time. How does a well-documented polygamist family like the Browns do it? It’s actually not as initially complicated as it may seem.

The key words here are “legal” marriage, meaning having more than one legal spouse is illegal, but having one legal spouse and other companions, partners, etc. is not, and there’s the catch.

In traditional polygamist marriages, the husband generally only legally marries the first wife and then takes on the additional wives as “spiritual wives.” There is a ceremony and, in the eyes of the church, they are bound just as if they were legally married with all the rights and responsibilities as spouses, just without the paperwork. Originally this is what the Brown family did, with Kody marrying his first wife, Meri, legally back in 1990. Here is where the Brown family gets a little more complicated.

Sister Wives family
Image via CNN

Robyn, Kody’s fourth wife (and the alleged favorite wife) was previously married, in a monogamous marriage by the way. She had three kids in that marriage, yet ended up getting divorced. There is definitely a story there, too, as the three children do not see their biological father at all, and Robyn is “not on good terms” with her ex. In fact, they are on such bad terms that somehow he has no parental rights to his kids.

The show and Robyn have been pretty tight-lipped publicly about the cause of the nasty divorce, saying only there was a “bullying” situation towards her kids. Although it must have been pretty bad, especially in a community and religion as tightly-knit as the one they belong to, which is an offshoot of the Mormon religion, by the way. Family within this community is valued very highly. Having a divorce and a situation where the father can’t see his children is a big deal, but we digress.

Long story short, Robyn wanted her children from her previous marriage to be legally adopted by Kody, but that wouldn’t be as possible if they weren’t married themselves. Legally it would be more complicated and, depending on the state they were in, potentially impossible, so the two hatched a plan.

Kody and Robyn
Image via People

Kody legally divorced Meri so that he could marry Robyn, thus allowing him to adopt Robyn’s children from her previous marriage as his own. He divorced Meri after nearly two decades of legal marriage and tied the legal knot with Robyn in 2014. Although the reason appeared valid, many of the wives did not buy it, and once again felt Kody was playing favorites by legally marrying Robyn. Be that as it may, the legal standing of Kody’s marriages is as follows: He is now legally married only to Robyn and is spiritually married to Meri, Janelle, and, when she was there, Christine.

Speaking of Christine, you may be wondering if you aren’t legally married, do you have to get divorced in polygamy? Legally, obviously not, but spiritually, yes. The couple was spiritually married through the church, so the church grants the spiritual divorce, so to speak. It’s a simple process; the church isn’t about holding people hostage, but the act of separation is still something that is done. When Christine left the family, she got a spiritual separation from Kody through the church and moved on to Utah as legally and spiritually single and ready to mingle.

If you are keeping count, that is one legal marriage and now two spiritual marriages, although Kody has hinted at wanting more. Sister Wives has been on the air for 17 whole seasons with no end in sight. With each new wife comes all new complications. The future of Kody’s legal marriage status could even change again, so stay tuned because who knows what’s next for this chaotic-but-loveable crew.