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Legal Tangles in Polygamous Relationships: Insights from ‘Sister Wives’

The TLC show “Sister Wives,” featuring the polygamous Brown family, has brought the complexities of plural marriages into the public eye. In a special episode of the Modern Divorce podcast, host Billie Tarascio, owner of Modern Law, and marketing manager Sarah Encarnacion delve into the legal intricacies surrounding such non-traditional family structures.

Understanding Polygamy in a Legal Context Polygamy, particularly in Western societies, exists in a complex legal gray area. While bigamy – being married to more than one person at the same time – is illegal, the Browns’ situation raises questions about the legal status of families living in plural marriage arrangements without formal legal recognition of all unions.

Key Legal Challenges in Polygamous Relationships

  1. Marital Finances and Property Issues: In polygamous families, financial entanglements can become particularly complex. Issues around property ownership, financial support, and division of assets in the event of a separation are not straightforward, as only one marriage is legally recognized.
  2. Child Custody and Support: Child custody and support issues are also complicated in polygamous families. Determining parental rights and responsibilities, especially for spouses who are not legally recognized as parents, can be challenging.
  3. Healthcare and Inheritance Rights: Without legal marriage status, partners in polygamous relationships may face difficulties in areas like healthcare decision-making and inheritance rights.

The Browns’ Experience

The Browns have steered through their unique family dynamics for over 18 seasons, showcasing the personal and legal challenges they face. Their experience highlights the need for careful planning and clear agreements, especially regarding finances and parenting.

Managing Legal Uncertainties

  1. Legal Agreements: For families in similar situations, drafting detailed legal agreements that outline financial responsibilities, property rights, and parenting plans is crucial.
  2. Seeking Legal Counsel: Consulting with family law attorneys who understand the nuances of such arrangements can provide invaluable guidance.
  3. Advocacy for Legal Recognition: The Browns’ story also underscores the broader conversation about the legal recognition of non-traditional family structures and the need for legal reforms to protect the rights of all involved.

Ensuring Protections

The legal complexities surrounding polygamous relationships, as illustrated by the “Sister Wives” show, highlight a unique intersection of family law and societal norms. Even for those in regular, legal marriages face situations where legal uncertanties can become apparent: managing these challenges requires careful planning, clear communication, and legal guidance to ensure the protection and well-being of all family members. As society continues to evolve, so too must the legal frameworks that govern family life, ensuring equity and fairness for all forms of family structures.


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