For one reason or another, the Brown family had moved 19 times since Kody married his first wife in 1990. As polygamy or bigamy was illegal in Utah where his family was based, they fled to Las Vegas in 2010, when their unconventional lifestyle became common knowledge through TLC’s “Sister Wives.” In 2018, the family left sin city to move to Flagstaff, Arizona, and many speculated on the reasons behind this decision.

Background on Kody Brown and his four wives

Kody Winn Brown – husband of four

Kody was born on 17 January 1969, to parents, William “Winn” Brown and Genielle Tew Brown, who both converted to Mormon Fundamentalism as they began to subscribe to the practice of plural marriage. At that time, he was only 19 and away on a two-year mission to southern Texas for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). The practice of polygamy had long been abandoned by his church way back in 1890, but he wasn’t opposed to the idea as its principle had been explained by his mother when he was 14. Upon his return, he met people from this church group so he could learn more about their faith; soon after that, he was baptized.

Meri Caroline Barber – first wife

Meri was born on 16 January 1971, to parents, William James Barber Jr. and Bonnie Ahlstrom Brown, who were devout members of the LDS church, but later joined the Mormon Fundamentalist faith. It was her mom who first became interested in a polygamous lifestyle, and urged her dad to move from California to Utah when Meri was five. Their family expanded until there were five wives and more than two dozen kids. From what she remembered, her biological parents and her mom’s sister wives were generally happy.

She was 18 when someone from church introduced her to Kody, and they later became friends through his sister, Christy. People around them suspected that they were dating, and he said, ‘It was no longer possible for me to deny that I had strong feelings for Meri…She validated my existence.’ However, it was only after he converted to Mormon Fundamentalism that he officially courted her. They were married on 21 April 1990, and led a carefree life for three years. Meri had difficulty conceiving, so gave birth to only one child, Mariah, in 1995.

Janelle Schriever – second wife

Janelle was born on 6 May 1969, to parents Sheryl Usher and Robert Schriever; her father died when she was around three. She was raised in the LDS faith but had no idea that polygamy existed, as she believed it was some Mormon tradition in the early days that had long been abandoned. It was only after she met her first husband Adam Barber, who grew up in a polygamist family, that she realized that this practice was still real. Their marriage didn’t work out because they were not romantically and spiritually compatible, and so divorced, but she remained close to his family including his sister, Meri Barber. As she spent time with them, she explored their faith, and soon fell in love with the polygamous lifestyle. Around this time, her mother married Kody’s father, Winn.

At first, her stepfather wanted to marry her off to Kody’s brother, but by that time she was already interested in Kody. She had seen the way he was with kids, and was convinced that he would make a great father to her future children. Having been disillusioned from her first failed marriage, she became more pragmatic about what she wanted in a relationship. She was looking for someone whom she had an intellectual connection with, and believed that intimacy would later develop from that.  The two were married on 20 January 1993, and their first year together was difficult because Kody and Meri didn’t know how to incorporate her into their lives. He and Janelle had six children together, with their eldest, Logan, born in 1994, and the youngest, Savannah, born in 2004.

Christine Ruth Allred – third wife

Christine was born on 18 April 1972, to parents Rex Allred and Ruthann LeBaron, who had a plural marriage. Her grandfather was the founder of the Apostolic United Brethren. Although she was raised in a polygamist family, it was not until she was 17 that she decided that she would be in a plural marriage as well, and that she wanted to be the third wife. She wasn’t interested in the monogamous stage of the relationship, so being the first wife was out. She felt that a second wife was an uncomfortable position for being the one who would disrupt the marriage of the first wife and the husband.

Her family often hosted gatherings for church members, and Kody and Meri were invited on a regular basis. As much as he liked Christine, he wasn’t ready to take on a new wife because he was only 25 with a job that he said was crushing his soul, and his two wives didn’t get along; also, Janelle was pregnant with his first child. However, she didn’t want to wait any longer, so it was a short courtship, and the wedding took place on 25 March 1994. Soon, peace settled into their home because of Christine. She had six children with Kody – her first child, Aspyn, born in 1995, and her youngest, Truely, born in 2010.

Robyn Alice Sullivan – fourth wife

Robyn was born on 9 October 1978, and grew up in a polygamist family. Her mother was the second wife, and the marriage was so wonderful that Robyn wanted her own marriage to be the same way. At age 22, she tied the knot with David Jessop, who belonged to a prominent family in their community. It was a struggle from the beginning, but she tried to make it work. They separated after seven years and were divorced a year later. She said, ‘I suffered a lot of pain and hardship. I had been badly mistreated and misled by my ex-husband.’

She wasn’t interested in dating anyone, as she focused on healing and taking care of her kids, but meeting Kody changed her mind. It was her cousin who introduced him to her when she attended a church service in Utah, and they were attracted to each other from the get-go. Robyn knew she would later become a plural wife, but didn’t think that she’d become the fourth wife. Any doubts that she might have about Kody vanished when she saw how loving and caring he was towards his children. They were spiritually married on 22 May 2010, and Robyn gave birth to their son, Solomon, in 2010 and their daughter, Ariella, in 2016. The two officially wed in 2014 after Kody divorced Meri so he could legally adopt Robyn’s kids from her first marriage.

“Sister Wives”

In polygamy, a guy is legally married to only one woman, so she and her kids are the ones acknowledged in public. The other women he has spiritual unions with, are usually introduced to those outside their community as relatives. Tired of living a secret life, the Browns saw the offer to be in a reality show as a way to educate others about their lifestyle, and make people understand that there was nothing salacious going on in their family. They were not part of a cult, and no one was forced to do something they didn’t want.

The Browns presented to the world that they were just one big happy family, and for 16 seasons, the viewers witnessed the joys and struggles of being part of a polygamous family.

Escaping the bigamy laws in Utah

At the press tour of the Television Critics Association, the network introduced “Sister Wives” as part of their lineup. Upon watching this or hearing about their show, the Lehi Police Department began their investigation into the Browns, as bigamy was a third-degree felony in Utah. Even if he was only legally married to one, and just cohabitated with the rest, it was considered bigamy, so it was said that Kody was facing up to 20 years in prison if convicted. This was a real possibility as they’d heard of other polygamists being charged, convicted and sent to prison for bigamy in Utah.

The Browns were aware of the risks involved when they agreed to do the show, but Janelle had said, ‘Everybody still decided that the benefits of what we could do far outweighed any of the risks,’ while Kody admitted that he didn’t expect that the state would come after them. Not wanting to wait for the result of the investigation, the family decided to leave Utah and move to Nevada in 2011, where Kody would not be guilty of bigamy as his spiritual unions with the other women were considered a non-marriage in the bigamy law in that state.

In 2012, it was reported on the local news that the prosecutors closed the investigation on the Browns and they were not filing any charges against them. It appeared that they had adopted the policy of not prosecuting consenting adult polygamists provided they had not committed any other crime.

Leaving Las Vegas

As difficult as it was to start over in Vegas, the Brown family made the best out of their situation. They first rented homes, as it was hard to find one they could afford that could accommodate all of them. After about a year, they moved into houses built in a cul-de-sac in a gated community, so they could at least live in proximity to one another; it was the perfect set-up for them. Also, Vegas allowed them to enjoy living out in the open, as people were more accepting of them and their lifestyle, or they simply didn’t care how the Browns lived their lives. However, Kody said that they never intended to live in Vegas permanently.

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He discussed with his wives about uprooting the family once again, but not everyone was on board with this, as his wives were particularly worried about the well-being of their kids, and didn’t want to disrupt their lives and their schooling. However, Kody said, ‘Our children are all going to leave us. We can’t put what I consider to be our well-being at risk for just a temporary moment for our children.’ He was adamant about leading his family to something he believed was the smartest thing to do. In 2018, his family issued a statement, ‘As much as we’ve loved making our home and memories here in Las Vegas, we are excited to embark on a new adventure in Flagstaff, Arizona!’ Many wondered why they chose this place, aside from the ‘cooler temperatures, mountain air, and scenic views’ that they said it had to offer.

A slower lifestyle

After carving out a life for themselves in sin city, Kody and Robyn had some concerns about the kind of environment that their kids were exposed to, as it changed a lot over the years. Kody said that Las Vegas was an exciting city, but with an ‘aggressive energy,’ and he wanted to feel safe again. Robyn said that they wanted a ‘slower lifestyle’, and didn’t really consider Vegas home.

Financial reason

Some fans theorized that the Vegas houses were ‘interest-only loan homes’ and that they were due for large payments, which they couldn’t afford, so they had to sell them or they would lose them. Although Kody didn’t talk about this matter, in particular, he did say that it made financial sense to move while the housing market in Las Vegas was still high, and then buy properties that were a lot cheaper elsewhere.

For all the planning that Kody said he put into relocating the family, they struggled financially because they spent all their money buying the new property. They had to move to Flagstaff as soon as possible, sell their Vegas homes and have the money to pay all their bills. However, it turned out that it wasn’t that easy to sell their houses, and they eventually ended up selling them for a lot less than they wanted. Also, the houses in Flagstaff were pricey, but Robyn admitted that she didn’t mind spending money if it meant that the quality of their lives would improve.

Living in one house

Kody’s family pooled their resources to buy a 12-acre lot in Coyote Pass. At first, he intended to build one big house so they could all live together as they did in Utah before Robyn came into the picture – when they were far apart, it made them feel that they were living separate lives. The wives protested, as they’d become used to living on their own, but they said it would be great to have their sister wives as neighbors, because they also didn’t want to lose the ‘family culture.’ The property would then be divided so each wife would have her own home, but they couldn’t seem to agree on how to split the lot between them, and where each house would be built. Janelle wanted a bigger plot for a vegetable garden, which everyone would benefit from. Meri wanted the one near the lake.

Going back to Utah

As Kody was discussing the future of his family, he shared that he thought about going back to Utah to run for office and change the law, but knew that this wasn’t feasible, so he let that dream go. In 2020, a law was passed in Utah to decriminalize polygamy among consenting adults, and reduce it to an infraction on the same level as a speeding ticket. Utah was once home to the Brown family, but when polygamy was no longer a felony in the state, no one except for Christine wanted to move back there. It appeared that the rest of the family was quite happy to live in Flagstaff. Arizona had no law against co-habitation with others while legally married to one, so the Browns could also live freely here.

Robyn’s son went to college in Arizona

Kody’s fourth wife had long been accused by some fans as the villain who caused the deterioration of Kody’s relationship with his other wives. This move to Flagstaff was believed to have been orchestrated by her as well, because Dayton, Robyn’s eldest, was accepted at the North Arizona University (NAU). While he was attending college, he would be living with them. In an episode in season 13 of “Sister Wives,” Robyn shared how worried she was about her kids, and referring to Dayton, she said, ‘I need to have him wherever we’re at for college…I need him to be close for a while, to get him through that transition.’

Fans assumed it had something to do with Dayton having a high-functioning form of Autism Spectrum Disorder, called Asperger Syndrome, with which he was diagnosed in second grade. Some speculated that the main reason they chose Arizona instead of any other state was that they already knew that Dayton would be attending the university there on a scholarship. However, when the family was discussing leaving Vegas, they still didn’t know where they would relocate. It appeared that she only made plans for her son after it was agreed upon that they would move to Arizona.

The sister wives lived in separate homes in Flagstaff, and Kody mostly stayed with Robyn. Christine moved back to Utah and sold her portion of the lot to Kody. The family had yet to break ground in Coyote Pass, and fans could only wait for future episodes to see how the plans for the property would pan out. Although all the original adults had grown up in and were committed to a polygamist lifestyle, clearly reality, their individual needs and increasingly those of their offspring wasn’t quite the smooth passage that they’d all envisaged – forAever.

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