The polygamist Brown family of TLC’s Sister Wives have been in the media spotlight over the last month after we broke the story on February 1 that family patriarch Kody Brown had divorced his legal wife Meri Brown in September and later legally married his fourth wife, Robyn Brown, in December. TLC and the Brown family have seemingly embraced the media attention and have been teasing an explanation for weeks, with the promise that tonight’s two-hour season finale will FINALLY reveal the true reason for the “legal restructuring” of the family, as the Brown family called it in a statement.
The divorce and remarriage story has sparked quite a bit of debate and discussion online as fans, detractors, and those merely curious explore what it means to be a polygamist with multiple spouses in a country where you can only legally be married to one person. (Most people believe that the move was purely a legal one, done to somehow benefit Robyn’s children from a previous marriage — whether it be insurance, custody, taxes or whatever — because Kody would not have any spousal rights under the law due to the fact that the two weren’t legally married.)
Part of that focused attention has brought up another part of their past that seems unique to their situation: filing for bankruptcy three times since 1997.
The bankruptcies have been talked about extensively among devout fans and detractors of the show, including a CNN segment with Jane Velez-Mitchell in which producer Laurie Allen (Banking on Heaven, Follow the Prophet) said, “these people are scamming every which way, they’ve been in all kinds of trouble, they’ve all filed bankruptcy. They rotate the wives around — one files one year, a couple years later another one. They shift the debt around, they’re living off food stamps, they’ve been in all kinds of financial trouble.”
I think Laurie Allen’s words were a bit harsh, but there is some truth to them, and I think it is a topic worth discussing. Here is a very rough breakdown of the Sister Wives‘ history of bankruptcy filings along with the full documents in PDF format:
1997 Janelle Brown files for bankruptcy
Monthly income: $388
Monthly expenses: $372
Total assets: $18,808 (including being a co-owner of two vacant lots worth a combined $13,588 as well as a 1991 Nissan Sentra valued at $4,995, which she still owed $3,548)
Total liabilities: $20,387.02 (Includes just under $12,000 of credit card debt)
2005 Kodi Brown and Meri Brown (his legal wife) jointly file for bankruptcy
Kody’s monthly income: $3,948 (plus a little
Meri’s monthly income: $865.50
Monthly expenses: $6,101
Total assets: $104,892.91 (Includes $90,000 invested in their Utah home, 3 vehicles, clothes, furniture, etc.)
Total liabilities: $229,892.91 That breaks down into:
Secured claims (1st and 2nd mortgages totaling just under $137,000 and 2 car loans totaling over $7,000)
Unsecured claims: $85,612.73 (This looks to be mostly credit card and retail debt)
Some examples of the unsecured claims:
$2,756.70 – Sears
$3,298.73 – Discover
$1,539.88 – Lowe’s
$1,566.68 – Lowe’s (separate)
$1,328.03 – Best Buy
$4,338.98 – Home Depot
$3,863.24 – Home Depot Credit Service
$6,992.71 – CitiFinancial (for “consumer purchases)
$6,824.37 – CitiFinancial (for “consumer purchases)
2010 Christine Brown files for bankruptcy
*Sister Wives premiered on September 26, 2010. Christine filed for bankruptcy in March of 2010, which I’m guessing is before TLC began filming.
Monthly income: $2,311.32 (includes $1,200 because “companion pays rent, utilities and auto insurance”)
Monthly expenses: $2,645
Total assets: $1,550
Total liabilities: $25,712.14 (Right around $22,000 in credit card debt)
* Christine lists her previous years’ income that includes receiving $5,400 in food stamps between 2009 and 2010
As far as Robyn goes, there is no record of her ever filing for bankruptcy, but it has been reported that when she married Kody she was $32,000 in debt. There has been no indication that Robyn plans to file for bankruptcy any time soon.
I do not have an answer for the obvious question about how the family was able to purchase four separate houses a few years ago.