How does a Polygamous Family File Their Tax Returns? #sisterwives

Well, they don’t. At least, not as a polygamous family.

This morning, Kody, Meri, Janelle, Christine, and Robyn Brown spoke with me about a variety of issues.

One thing I asked them about was taxes. No, not what they thought about taxes. But, as a polygamist family, how do they file their taxes?

The Brown Family: Janelle, Christine, Kody, Meri, and Robyn.


As Adam Alba, one of their attorneys, pointed out to Approaching Justice right after the Brown v. Buhman ruling, only Kody and Meri are legally married. As a result, Kody files taxes jointly with Meri. Janelle, Christine, and Robin file as single. Kody does not claim any of the children from his marriages with Janelle, Christine, or Robin as deductions.

The recent ruling by U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups does not change this in anyway. It only prohibits the State of Utah from prosecuting people who live in a family arrangement like the Brown family does.

And they are not interested in going beyond that.

“We have never been interested in having legally recognized plural marriage,” Kody told me. Instead, they just want to be able to organize their family in the way they choose without being prosecuted or harrassed by the state.

“Can you imagine what a tax nightmare that would be,” Robyn said with a laugh.

Samuel Brunson, a tax law expert and assistant professor of law at the Loyola University School of Law, told Approaching Justice that “if polygamy were to become legal, the tax code would have to undergo significant changes to account for multiple spouses filing jointly. But we’re still probably a long way from there. Which is a shame since most of these case end up with unfiled tax returns and the problems that ensue.”

But the Browns are not worrying about any of that. They told me that they just want to live their lives and follow their beliefs without the fear that came from being targeted by the government.

NOTE: Tomorrow, I will share more from my interview with the Browns. In particular, I will look at the how this family is influencing cultural perceptions of polygamy, their relationship with Mormonism, and a little more about them as a family.



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5 replies »

  1. It is totally too late and they don’t seem like they would be familiar with the subject, but it would be quite interesting to know how the wives (don’t really care about what Kody thinks about this) would respond to Valerie Hudson’s contention that polygamy is universally a bad thing and an Abrahamic sacrifice to which God will provide an eventual escape.

    • Of course, I have no idea. But from my brief conversation with them, my guess is that they would reject Hudson’s perspective. I think the Hudson has a very Victorian form of feminism.

      • I like, and my wife really likes, some things she says, other things less sure about. While her idea on polygamy is interesting it really doesn’t seem to quite fit and it would be really interesting to have responses from both women that are polygamous and find it difficult but don’t hate it, and from those women that are polygamous and love it/find it superior to monogamy; and this from a Mormon perspective.

        Obviously the Browns aren’t LDS polygamists but there is a distinct shortage of those for the last 70 years or so (where the wives are both alive at the same time, at least). Elder Oaks and Elder Nelson’s perspective is interesting (and in my opinion makes Hudson’s idea seem much less likely) but it isn’t quite the same.

  2. Thanks, Chris. (I still can’t believe you actually asked about taxes! You rock!) Interestingly enough, even though they don’t file joint tax returns, tax affects their relationship (whether they know it or not). Congress has decided it doesn’t want to intrude too much on marital privacy, so basically, transfers between spouses are disregarded for tax purposes. In a polygamous family, though, the spouses not recognized by the state are not spouses for tax purposes, meaning transfers of property and services between them have tax consequences.

    • I wonder if it is part of some sort of official child support arrangement. I also do not know how the jewelry business and the like are structured which would come into play.

      Of course, I asked about taxes! It was also a way of illustrating some of the challenges or complications of their situation.

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