Polygamy is a sensational subject matter, and sure to create controversies, so when TLC’s “Sister Wives” premiered on 26 September 2010, it naturally generated much attention from the public. The reality television series delved into the world of a polygamous family, with Kody Brown as the ‘husband’ of four women – Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn – and the father of 18 children. For 16 seasons, viewers witnessed how the Browns evolved from one big happy family to a troubled one, as Kody ended up separated from one wife, and emotionally disconnected from two more. With all their hurts and struggles exposed, many wondered about their financial gains from appearing on the show.
- 1 Kody Brown’s road to polygamy
- 2 TLC’s “Sister Wives”
- 3 What happened to the Brown family?
- 4 The Brown family finances
- 5 Net worth and salaries from the TV show
Kody Brown’s road to polygamy
Kody did not grow up in a polygamous family, but his interest in this lifestyle began when he was 14, as his mother explained to him some of the more ‘intense’ doctrines of Mormonism, particularly that of plural marriage; perhaps it was during this time that his parents were contemplating subscribing to this way of life. Kody was 20 and away on a Latter-Day Saints (LDS) mission in southern Texas when his parents were excommunicated, and subsequently converted to the Fundamentalist Mormon faith to start practicing polygamy.
Coming May 1st, but you can pre-order at Amazon.com now!
Meri – first wife
Upon returning home, Kody witnessed the warmth and love of what living that life entailed, and it was exactly what he hoped and imagined it to be. Kody took his time in joining this religious sect, as he was still uncertain. Meeting Meri Caroline Barber, whom he believed was his soulmate, and other church members who inspired him by their zealous commitment to their faith, convinced him that this was the right path for him. He was baptized, and then married 19-year-old Meri in 1990; he was 22 at that time.
Janelle – second wife
Kody and Meri were in a monogamous relationship for three years before he took Janelle Schriever as his second wife in 1993. Coming from a failed marriage to Meri’s brother, Janelle had become so disillusioned that she was more interested in having an intellectual connection with her new husband, rather than intimacy or romance, at least initially; she wanted a friend and a companion, and she found that in Kody. They weren’t in love then, but since Kody and Meri were committed to having a plural marriage and had lengthy discussions about it, the transition shouldn’t have been difficult. However, it appeared that they weren’t ready for the changes it would bring to their lives, and this caused Janelle to feel like an outsider. Meri and Janelle didn’t get along, and Kody didn’t know how to fix what was wrong; as a result, everyone was quite miserable.
Christine – third wife
In 1994, Kody took Christine Allred as his third wife. Considering that the situation at home was far from ideal, it wasn’t the right time to bring in a new wife, and he realized that he was in over his head right after he proposed to Christine, but the ceremony took place after six weeks anyway. It turned out to be the best decision he’d made, as Christine eased the tension at home with her positive nature and kindliness. The only glitch was that Meri felt ‘threatened’ by her, in the sense that she was competition for Kody’s affection, as he was enamored by Christine.
Robyn – fourth wife
The Brown family lived in relative peace until Robyn Sullivan came into the picture, and disrupted the harmony that the first three wives had worked so hard to achieve. It wasn’t Robyn’s fault; it was just that she became Kody’s fourth wife in 2010, 16 years after his last marriage, and the sister wives had long since adjusted well to living together, accepting each one’s role in the family. Kody was initially averse to marrying someone like Robyn, who had three kids from a previous marriage, as he believed that blending families and raising another man’s children would be difficult, but he fell in love with her. He said that the spark he felt for Robyn was deep and transcendent, and the feeling was obviously mutual.
— SOS/CTS/HH (@SoapOperaSpy) July 4, 2022
TLC’s “Sister Wives”
How did the TV series come about?
Christine had worked for Principle Voices, a non-profit organization established to empower those who practiced plural marriages. As the public face of polygamy, it handled media inquiries, and provided assistance to those doing research about their culture. Many who had come to know the Brown family were interested in interviewing them, or featuring them in a documentary, as they were ‘a fairly average, stable, all-American family.’ They once flew to New York for an interview with a journalist who wanted to learn more about their lifestyle, but it was only used as a demo, and not shown to the viewing public.
Executive producer Timothy Gibbons contacted Christine through Principle Voices, about doing a reality TV series showing a polygamous family. Tim’s vision for the show coincided with Kody’s, as both wanted to change the public’s negative perception of polygamy. According to Tim, if he could present the Brown family as openly and honestly as possible, people would come to see and understand that they were a normal family, and not that different from monogamous couples. He also assured the Browns that the camera crew would be small and unobtrusive, with their wishes respected if they didn’t want to be filmed when they had to deal with something they would rather keep private.
The family discussed appearing in a TV show, and most of them were afraid of the ramifications – that they would be ridiculed, called nasty names, fired from their jobs, and the kids bullied in school. Parents and siblings were worried that they would be outed inadvertently, and they weren’t ready for it. Some considered their lifestyle as sacred, and it shouldn’t be exposed to the public in a manner that could be regarded as a form of entertainment. In the end, though, everyone agreed to participate.
Most polygamous families chose to live in communities where the residents shared the same faith, so they could be free to talk about their lives. However, they also had friends and co-workers who didn’t know about their lifestyle. Lying had never been part of their belief system, but it had become necessary as they wanted to protect themselves. Fortunately, their friends understood why they kept this part of their lives a secret.
What happened to the Brown family?
Viewers had become privy to the Browns’ family dynamics, and how they’d grown and evolved, as the TV series, “Sister Wives,” aired for 16 seasons from 2010 to 2022. Season one introduced Kody’s family, as they lived in a home that was subdivided into three apartments, all interconnected, with each wife having her own bedroom, living area and kitchen. Although Kody followed a schedule to which apartment he would be staying in for a particular day, or which wife he would be spending time with, the children had access to him at all times. Usually, they all had dinners together every Friday, lunches every Sunday, and engaged in activities that would further cement their bond as one family.
It was a busy year for the Browns, as Kody courted Robyn to be his fourth wife, celebrated his 20th wedding anniversary with his first wife Meri, and was with his third wife Christine as she gave birth to her daughter Truely (his 13th child). The wedding was shown in the season finale, followed by a special episode that featured their 11-day honeymoon in San Diego; so much had happened since then.
— Kody Brown (@realkodybrown) September 28, 2015
Moving to Las Vegas
One of the major changes that they had to deal with was moving to Nevada, as they evaded the authorities in Utah. Polygamy is illegal in 50 US states, and as soon as “Sister Wives” premiered, the Lehi City police department issued a statement that they were investigating the Brown family, since the TV series was introduced at the Television Critics Association.
The kids were all worried that their father would be prosecuted, but some of them resented the fact that they had to transfer to another school, and leave their friends and all that was familiar to them. They kept this decision to themselves, and only informed TLC of their plans shortly before the big day arrived.
Another change that greatly impacted their lives was that they couldn’t stay together in one house as the first three wives had; Robyn lived separately from them. As each one had her own home, there was minimal interaction among sister wives and their children, and little room for spontaneity as they had to plan everything in advance, just so that they could be together as one family.
Meri divorced Kody
In a polygamous family, the man was usually legally married to one wife, and had spiritual unions with the rest. Kody’s marriage to Meri was official, and a special ceremony was held when he made Janelle, Christine, and Robyn his ‘wives’. Each wife wore a Claddagh ring, signifying love, loyalty and commitment. In 2014, Meri and Kody filed for divorce just so he could make Robyn his legal wife, and adopt her children from her first marriage; he claimed that it was a way for them to ‘legally restructure’ their family. Meri’s relationship with Kody suffered, more so when she became involved in a catfishing incident; the whole family was shocked and her daughter Mariah couldn’t get over the fact that Meri did this. Kody had no more romantic feelings toward Meri, and the most he could be for her was a friend.
Christine left Kody
Many weren’t surprised when Christine announced her separation from Kody in November 2021. It had been a long time coming, as it was clear that she was no longer happy with their set-up. She felt let down, in that her opinions didn’t matter when the family was making decisions that would affect all of them. No one but her wanted to go back to Utah, after practicing polygamy was decriminalized in 2020. When Kody said that he was no longer interested in being intimate with Christine, it was the last straw.
Janelle and Kody are not ‘in sync’
It was said that Kody’s relationship with Janelle was different to his other wives from the beginning, as she wasn’t looking for romance; what she admired most about him was that he was good with kids. Years later, he revealed that he had a love for Janelle, but couldn’t say that he was in love with her. He said that they weren’t ‘in sync’, but were good friends who happened to be in a committed relationship. Despite their many disagreements in the past, Janelle referred to Kody as her best friend.
— TLC Network (@TLC) February 7, 2022
What went wrong with Kody’s family?
Despite Meri’s insistence that she was into plural marriage, she had been struggling with it since the beginning. It didn’t help that she had difficulty conceiving, while others did not. Her pain and jealousy set the tone for how ‘supportive’ she was as a sister wife. Some said that the family’s brokenness began when Robyn joined the family, and Kody showed preferential treatment to her. She was the latest wife, but he’d been especially attentive to her.
There were those who said that appearing in the reality show was the main reason, as the wives could see what happened in the privacy of each home, and could easily compare how Kody was with each of them. Others were still debating whether the ‘couch sessions’ in which they had to face issues head-on for all the world to see, were good for the family or not; some believed that there were problems that were better dealt with in private.
Perhaps as time passed, each wife had been looking for something more from Kody than he was able to give. As Kody divided his attention between four wives and 18 children, one could just imagine how most of them would be left wanting. The pandemic compounded the problem, as they couldn’t all agree on the rules that Kody set, so that he could deem it safe to visit each home. Some of the kids were all grown-up, particularly Janelle’s, and they had opinions on the matter that clashed with Kody’s, resulting in resentment and hurt feelings.
The closeness that the family once had was gone. At one point, Kody even said that he no longer wanted to advocate for polygamy, as he struggled in dealing with four women, and couldn’t seem to please all of them.
The Brown family finances
Many had been wondering about the financial aspect of a polygamous family. Kody wasn’t rich, and had no stable job as he worked in sales, so there were good months and bad months. He and Meri were living a carefree existence when it was just the two of them, and Janelle was career-minded and worked full-time when she came, so all three shared a bank account, and discussed the monthly income, family budget, and personal spending budget. As Janelle felt that Meri was controlling the finances, they thought it best for each one to have his or her own bank account to have financial autonomy, and just contribute to the family coffers. This was a far better arrangement, and when Christine and Robyn joined them, they just followed suit in how the finances were managed within the family. The responsibility of paying bills was divided based on the income of each person. When it came to major expenses, or if one wife had a need, Kody would cover it if he could, but if not, he would approach his other wives to pool their resources.
Net worth and salaries from the TV show
With a growing family, there were times when they struggled financially. It was said that Kody and Meri filed for bankruptcy in 2005, as did Christine in 2010.
Their finances improved when they appeared in their own reality series, in that they split their income evenly, and helped each other out. Nobody knew how much they actually received each season – reportedly, TLC’s budget per episode of a show ranged from $250,000 to $400,000, and the cast would earn at least 10 percent of the said budget, which meant that the Browns could take home $25,000 to $40,000 per episode. As 188 episodes of “Sister Wives” aired from September 2010 until January 2022, they would have earned a minimum $4.7 million, to as much as $7.5 million.
The figures might not seem much considering they had a huge family, but the sister wives had their own businesses as well. Meri opened a Bed and Breakfast called Lizzie’s Heritage Inn, located in Parowan, Utah. Janelle became a certified health coach, and offered ‘body compassion and accountability coaching’ in her company called Strive with Janelle. After leaving Kody, Christine started a digital cooking show in 2022, called “Cooking with Just Christine” for TLC. Robyn runs My Sisterwife’s Closet, an online clothing and jewelry line boutique, and is the author of four books. All of them became New York Times best-selling authors, with their memoir “Becoming Sister Wives: The Story of an Unconventional Marriage,” published in 2013.
According to authoritative sources, as of June 2022, Kody Brown’s net worth was estimated at $800,000, Meri’s also at $800,000, Christine and Janelle at $400,000 each, and Robyn at as much as $1 million.