Modern Divorce - The Do-Over For A Better You

Sister Wives: Is That Even Legal?

November 23, 2023 Attorney Billie Tarascio
Sister Wives: Is That Even Legal?
Modern Divorce - The Do-Over For A Better You
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Modern Divorce - The Do-Over For A Better You
Sister Wives: Is That Even Legal?
Nov 23, 2023
Attorney Billie Tarascio

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In this compelling episode of "Modern Divorce," host Billie Tarascio delves into the captivating world of a long-running TLC reality show centered around Kody Brown and his four wives. While bigamy is unquestionably illegal, this polygamist family has somehow navigated the complexities of plural marriage from their home base in Arizona. 

Join Billie and Sarah Encarnacion, Modern Law's Marketing Manager, as they embark on a thought-provoking journey through the intricate web of personal and legal challenges facing this unique family.  Sarah admits she's been a longtime fan of this show, and she brings a host of questions from the Sister Wives Facebook group who want to know: "How is that even legal?"

Discover the surprising twists and "ah-ha" moments related to child support, marital finances, and property issues, both within and beyond the bounds of matrimony. As the relationships among family members begin to unravel, you'll find out the answers to  perplexing questions of who pays for what and who truly owns what in this enthralling exploration of modern relationships and their legal implications.

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Send us a Text Message.

In this compelling episode of "Modern Divorce," host Billie Tarascio delves into the captivating world of a long-running TLC reality show centered around Kody Brown and his four wives. While bigamy is unquestionably illegal, this polygamist family has somehow navigated the complexities of plural marriage from their home base in Arizona. 

Join Billie and Sarah Encarnacion, Modern Law's Marketing Manager, as they embark on a thought-provoking journey through the intricate web of personal and legal challenges facing this unique family.  Sarah admits she's been a longtime fan of this show, and she brings a host of questions from the Sister Wives Facebook group who want to know: "How is that even legal?"

Discover the surprising twists and "ah-ha" moments related to child support, marital finances, and property issues, both within and beyond the bounds of matrimony. As the relationships among family members begin to unravel, you'll find out the answers to  perplexing questions of who pays for what and who truly owns what in this enthralling exploration of modern relationships and their legal implications.

Sister Wives Unpacked

Announcer: [00:00:00] We hope you enjoy this episode of the Modern Divorce Podcast. But first, an important message for our listeners.

Billie Tarascio: Hi, this is Attorney Billy Tarascio and my partner Julie and I have created a resource for you If you are representing yourself in family court, no one should go into Family Court without knowing the basics, and we will teach you everything you need to know at Win without Law School to represent yourself with confidence.

We'll teach you how to get exhibits in, how to draft your pre trial statements, and how to speak to the judge so the judge won't listen. We'll teach you how to defend against false accusations, and everything you need to know to be an effective advocate both if you're negotiating or if you're presenting evidence.

Don't wait, go to winwithoutlawschool.com. We can help you.

Hello, and welcome to a special episode of the Modern Divorce podcast. I am your host, Billie Tarascio, owner of Modern Law, co owner of Win Without Law School. Today I [00:01:00] am joined by our marketing manager, Sarah Encarnation. Hello, Sarah. Hello. 

Sarah Encarnacion: Thank you so much for having me, um, as a guest again on the Modern Divorce podcast.

Billie Tarascio: I am so happy that you're here. So can you tell people what we're talking about today? 

Sarah Encarnacion: Today we are talking about the Sister Wives. A huge TV show, lots of fans, 18 seasons, kind of a big deal. We're talking about the 

Billie Tarascio: Browns. Cody, Mary, Janelle, Christine, and Robin. 

Sarah Encarnacion: Oh my goodness! You got them all. Yes. Yes. 

Billie Tarascio: All of them.

And their children, and their businesses, and all of the, all of the legal issues surrounding couples that, and families that choose to live in a, um, non traditional plural marriage situation. So I'm so excited to dig in. This was your idea. Thank you so much. What, um, do you [00:02:00] want to give people a little intro and then we'll dive in?

Sure. 

Sarah Encarnacion: So as I mentioned, there's 18 seasons. This show has been around since 2010. There's a lot here and I was somehow able to put it into about 10 bullet points. Um, show started in 2010. 16 to 17 years. at this point. A lot of people don't know this. They were well established before TLC came into their lives and started filming everything.

I think they had about 13 kids at that point. 

Billie Tarascio: Wait, wait, so I just want to make sure I understand. 18 years ago when they started filming, they had already been together for 13 years? So in 2010, 

Sarah Encarnacion: they had, yeah, they had been together for about, 16 or so years as a whole unit. Yep. The first wife, I believe, uh, they were legally married.

It's the only one who's legally married was, was Mary, wife number one in 1990. And I think the third one, [00:03:00] Christine had come in like 93, 94. Um, So, yeah. Got it. I've been around for a 

Billie Tarascio: while. Okay, and at this point, not to jump ahead, but... No, no, totally fine. Okay, no, keep going, keep going. It's so juicy. It is 

Sarah Encarnacion: juicy.

They all lived in this mega house, which was basically an apartment. Um, I think they said it was actually built by somebody who was also polygamist, so it was perfect for them. They were in Utah. Each mom had her own unit in this house. It worked. Um, a few episodes in, Cody, father, the husband, he gathers the whole family together.

Um, it was like a press conference. And he tells them that he's courting another woman named Robin, she's divorced and has three kids, um, they eventually get married. And at this point in the show, I'm like, wow, like, you've got so much going on, dude. Um, but, you know, didn't want to judge. Super interesting at this point.

Next thing [00:04:00] you know, they're moving to Las Vegas. Like this whole family, the new wife, her kid, they're moving to Las Vegas because they're under investigation for bigamy, which was illegal in Utah. It's illegal 

everywhere, 

Billie Tarascio: but the definition in Utah is very different than the definition of bigamy in Arizona or in Las Vegas, which is one of the things that I needed to figure out is like, well, why is it legal for them to be?

together in all these other places, but not Utah. How does Utah really make it illegal for people to enter into spiritual marriages? Because as far as I understand, he's only legally married to one at a time. And first, first he married Mary, then later he divorced Mary so that he could marry Robin. His one love.

and adopt her children. So we gotta talk about that 

Sarah Encarnacion: too. Oh we could do a whole episode on like the legislation with Bigamy in Utah and I know the Browns were heavily involved in some of [00:05:00] the changes. It's, really we could do a whole episode. It's super fascinating. Um, so yeah, we've got this huge family, and now they're moving to Las Vegas, and it's super stressful to just watch, uh, they move into four rentals, they somehow find four rental homes, they move in, um, and then they find, like, this cul de sac.

It's undeveloped, it's just land, and they somehow find the funding to build four homes. on this land. And it worked for them and their vision. They wanted to be very close. Cody always said, I don't want my children to be raised as cousins. I want them to be raised as siblings, right? So it was perfect. Each home was like 450k each.

I'm super interested in, like, how did they get this money? Like, how did they do that? We gotta talk about the money. We gotta talk about the money! They had a few more kids, like you said, Billie. Uh, Mary and Cody ended up divorcing, so Mary, or I'm sorry, so Cody and Robin, the love of his life. Um, you know, could [00:06:00] legally marry for the purpose of him being able to adopt her three kids.

Right. Right. Um, the most shocking for me was they're living, like, in this cul de sac, things are working out, like, we've had a few more kids. And then one day, Cody's like, hey, we are going to move to Flagstaff. I was like, what? Why? 

Billie Tarascio: Right. 

Sarah Encarnacion: That's insane, right? So they, they moved to Flagstaff and some people say it's because they had balloon mortgages that were, um, going to be increasing soon.

Billie Tarascio: Sure. That would make sense. Yeah, it's absolutely possible. Yep. 

Sarah Encarnacion: And then they have this vision to buy a big chunk of land and to build more homes on that land. Um, and so this land was super expensive. They couldn't build anything until they paid it off, whatever. But in the meantime, because now they don't have [00:07:00] homes, because they're in the process of selling their lost vacant, like 2 million worth of homes, right?

Um, they move into rentals. Three of them move into rentals. One of them purchases a home instead of getting a rental. Um, And one of those wives, Robin, she ends up purchasing a home, which was like a million dollars, I'm not even joking. Wow. Yeah, it was like, I think 890, 000, it was up there. 

Billie Tarascio: Wow. Mm hmm. So, um, I s I saw that Mary has some independent businesses.

Oh yeah, she does. Lulu Roe and A Bed and Breakfast, and she is bringing in money, um, what do the others do for work in addition to, of course, getting paid to be on the show? 

Sarah Encarnacion: Oh goodness, I think, I think Robin [00:08:00] was, uh, running their At least, I'm not sure if towards the end she was, but at some point she was making money from running their family business, Our Sister Wives Closet, where they were selling, um, jewelry marketed to, um, other polygamists.

Billie Tarascio: Oh, okay. Polygamist jewelry. Is the family 

Sarah Encarnacion: business? Family business, and by that I mean the family's money was financing it, but Robin was, um, really the one managing. Yeah. 

Billie Tarascio: Okay. Um, so Robin has that job, managing that, which we call the family business. I'd be very interested to look at the Corporation Commission's website and find out how these entities are titled.

And so one of the, the, my lawyer brain, like we got to talk about bigamy, we got to talk about Partnerships, general partnerships, entities, how those work, um, marriage, child support, property, and then you've got a bunch of [00:09:00] questions too, right? Sure, yeah. Okay, so should we just dive into your questions? 

Sarah Encarnacion: Yes, I want to give a shout out to this Facebook group that I'm part of, Sister Wives Uncensored.

So a few days ago I reached out there, I said, hey guys, doing this podcast, work for a divorce and family law firm, what are your legal questions? And I got so much activity, so many responses, and these questions come from, um, the people in the group who responded, so shout out to them. Thank you! 

Billie Tarascio: Thank you, Sister Wives Uncensored!

Um, and then, before we dive into the questions, fast forward to today. The status, as I understand it, is that the first three wives are no longer with Cody. 

Sarah Encarnacion: It's a little fuzzy. Okay. First one, no. Second one, Janelle, kind of. Third one, absolutely not. She just remarried. Congratulations, Christine.

Congratulations, Christine. 

Billie Tarascio: Yep. Okay, so then he may still have one, uh, additional wife. He may have two wives who [00:10:00] are wife number two and wife number four, who he seems to be, well, first legally married to, and he seems to be truly in love with this woman. Which is, of course, one of the risks with polygamy.

Sarah Encarnacion: It can happen, yeah. 

Billie Tarascio: Okay, got it. All right, so now the status is there. We're caught up. Let's dive into the questions. Yeah, 

Sarah Encarnacion: so I want to talk a little bit about Christine. She's the wife that divorced. By divorced means spiritually. There was no legal marriage between the two of them. So when they had split up, they had a minor child.

And, uh, truly, I forget how old she was, but she was a minor. And Christine's like, I want to move back to Utah. I want to sell this house. That is all in my name. I want to move back to Utah. And Cody, who is like so ego stricken, I don't know if that's a word, by this, he says, you know, this is quoted, you and I have to actually have a child custody agreement in place, or [00:11:00] the state takes her, essentially becomes the owner of her.

Um, Cody later said, so I got to this child custody thing and I just started getting creative about it. Um, he additionally said there is this thing in the Manosphere where it says if you're getting divorced you're going to get screwed, bro. He explained that he lied to gain the upper hand in the custody battle because he didn't know what else to do.

Wow. Oh my gosh. He's so interested in hearing, like, your whole take on 

Billie Tarascio: this. Okay, so Cody lies to his wife, and for the legal purposes, they were in Las Vegas at that point, right? Or were they in Arizona? They were in Arizona. Okay, so first, before we dive in, I just want to tell you about The Bigamy Statue in Utah.

So the Bigamy Statue in Utah is from 2022, and it defines, it says an individual's guilty of bigamy if an individual purports to marry another individual, or knows or [00:12:00] reasonably knows, or should know that one or both of the individuals described are legally married to another individual. And then it talks about...

Moving, co cohabitating. An individual is guilty of second degree felony if the individual cohabitates with another individual with whom the individual is engaged in bigamy. So, uh, that is, I think, the most, the broadest definition of bigamy. I wonder if it's even constitutional. I really do. Um, but that is why they couldn't live, because they were purporting to be married to one another.

Now, in Arizona and in Las Vegas, Actually, I don't know, I'm not a Nevada lawyer, but I looked up the definition of bigamy and it has to do with actual marriage. In Arizona, marriage is marriage is marriage. We have done extensive work trying to get people out of paying spousal maintenance when they had entered into permanent spousal maintenance, um, agreements and then their, uh, their exes entered into [00:13:00] essentially spiritual marriages and were Behaving as if they were married and they weren't legally married, and in Arizona, marriage is legal marriage is legal marriage.

So, for our purposes, when we're talking about Christine, that's what we're talking about, Christine and Cody and their custody arrangement, we're talking about unwed parents from a legal standpoint. So then the question is, does, does the child of an unwed parent become property of the state if there's not a custody agreement and they don't live in the same state?

Absolutely not. Like, that is the most ludicrous thing. And I can't help but wonder, like, Christine, you have Google, right? 

Sarah Encarnacion: She even said she responded something like, that doesn't sound right, or I don't know about that. She challenged it. But she didn't move. She did end up moving. Oh, okay. So I don't know if they have something documented, or if this was something that's written on a piece of paper somewhere.

Um, but she, she did 

Billie Tarascio: proceed. Okay, so she's back in Utah, and as far as we know, there's [00:14:00] no custody agreement in place. Don't quote me, 

Sarah Encarnacion: I'm not sure. We don't know, right. They have something arranged based on what I've seen in episodes and in parenting time, visitation. 

Billie Tarascio: Okay, so let's say they have an agreement but it's not legal.

Then what's going to happen is six months after that child lives in Utah, Utah is going to gain jurisdiction over the case under the UCCJEA and Christine could file for custody in Utah. If it has been less than six months, And they lived in Arizona for at least six months, right? I believe so. Okay, then Arizona would have jurisdiction and she could file in Arizona or he could file in Arizona to get some sort of custody arrangement in place.

Sure, 

Sarah Encarnacion: and just for the record, again, the state would not take, they would not be the owner of, truly, their mutual minor daughter. 

Billie Tarascio: No, no. And then it would come down to, like, what's in the best interest of the child [00:15:00] in terms of visitation, and, um, of course that would be a very interesting case to be a family law attorney on.

Sarah Encarnacion: Mm hmm. For sure. Uh, here's another question. How many children does Cody Brown legally have? Which we, we, Know that, you don't have to answer that. In some states, it would require a DNA test to prove paternity, but only if requested by a court ruling. Was money ever put in a trust for the children from proceeds from the show?

We obviously don't know that. Would the adult children have a viable case if they were to seek recompensation for residuals from being on their show? 

Billie Tarascio: Okay, so, let's take these one at a time. The first thing is, legally, how many children does he have? Um, it depends on whether or not paternity has been established for all of these children.

So, in order to establish paternity in Arizona, you assign a voluntary acknowledgement of paternity at the hospital when a baby's born. Now, I heard that Christine, I believe, was having a baby while Cody was out [00:16:00] with... Robin on an extended honeymoon. So it's quite possible that Cody didn't sign that voluntary acknowledgement of paternity.

So if there are children of his and he has not done something to establish paternity, then they legally aren't his yet. 

Sarah Encarnacion: Sure. Well, so we know that there's, uh, gosh, how many are there? 18? I can't keep up. We know biologically, or we can strongly assume biologically, they are his. But for all we know legally...

Billie Tarascio: It may not be established yet. Yeah, right. 

Sarah Encarnacion: So biologically all of them minus the three, but maybe legally only three, which is so weird to just, 

Billie Tarascio: yeah. I mean, right. It's totally possible. Now that happens with unmarried parents all the time. Unmarried parents might have children and then not establish paternity until there's a reason to do so, either for child support or for another family law case.

Sarah Encarnacion: [00:17:00] Sure. Um, So, that was the first question. 

Billie Tarascio: And then, would you mind reminding me the second question? 

Sarah Encarnacion: In some states, it would require a DNA test to prove paternity, but only if requested by a court ruling. Was money ever put in trust for the children from proceeds from the 

Billie Tarascio: show? Okay, so I can't really comment on the DNA test part, um, but And I don't think we know if there's a trust with money.

Actually, I think we can assume there isn't. I think we can assume based on their spending, at least one prior bankruptcy, um, the amount of Oh, three prior bankruptcies. Okay. All right. So the amount of money that we can surmise that they're making, um, I did a little research and it looks like they are making anywhere between 250, 000 and about 500, 000 per season as a whole.

So [00:18:00] that means, I mean, I'd love to see that contract, but that means that the children don't have individual contracts. Maybe weren't paid. And then, you know, the question is, do child stars have the ability to sue their parents for mismanagement of funds? And we know they do, because we know that's happened in quite a few cases.

But usually if the money's gone, the money's gone. Like if there's no money to be had, there's no lawsuit. 

Sarah Encarnacion: Right. Would the adult children have a viable case if they were to seek recompensation for residuals from being on the show? So I think your response might have taken care of that 

Billie Tarascio: one too. Well, the residual part would be interesting.

So I don't know how much money they're making on an ongoing basis, but let's say there are some big passive streams of income. Then the question would be, were they an intended beneficiary of this contract with TLC? And if they were an intended beneficiary, then they have standing to [00:19:00] sue for money. 

Sarah Encarnacion: Oh my gosh, sounds so scandalous.

So scandalous. Oh, here's another one. Well, a couple, actually. People want to know, can Janelle and Christine, this was asked several times, can they go back and sue Cody for child support of the children? One specifically said, I know Savannah, that's Janelle's youngest child who was, who was a minor, um, when they moved to Flagstaff, but no longer is, she said, I know Savannah just graduated, but can she sue for back trial support if Cody was Neglecting their relationships.

Billie Tarascio: Okay, so adult children can't sue for child support. They can't sue either parent for child support. So they can't sue the recipient parent who maybe mismanaged the child support. They can't sue the parent that was supposed to pay that didn't. They have no standing. Um, could you get back support? So in Arizona, you can [00:20:00] get up to three years of discretionary, so it's discretionary, it's up to the judge, but you can get up to three years of retroactive child support, um, but not if you've lived together.

So if, if, and it's hard for me to say if these people were cohabitating or not, right? 

Sarah Encarnacion: Were they? This is where it gets weird. When they moved to Flagstaff, COVID happened at some point, and, and some argue that the downfall of this family was COVID, and the fact that Cody was like, I'm gonna live with Robin and her children full time, COVID, you know, preference, whatever, and that's when he stopped spending time with them.

And you hear it a lot on the show, they're like, he's not here anymore. 

Billie Tarascio: Sure. So I think for that period of time, they could qualify to seek retroactive support if the money's not all combined. And I saw at least at one point, there's a family account, so we don't know how they run their money and how they manage their money.[00:21:00] 

Um, because, let's talk about partnerships for a minute. There's a, something called a general partnership. that can be entered into without a written agreement and without being filed with the court. You and I could create a general partnership if we went out and we started a hot dog stand together and we both worked together and we had a common purpose.

We would have a general partnership, and the statutes would give us the rules for how general partnerships work, but they, both people can make, are liable, and can bind the partnership, and make the other, um, liable. It's almost like the concept of community property came out of the general partnership theory, okay?

Gotcha. So when you think about community property where each of you are acting on behalf of the marriage, that came from the concept of how general partnerships work. These people had some sort of a partnership, without a doubt, and it's probably written down. And so I think you've got possible causes of action [00:22:00] under those partnership theories.

Breach of duties to the partnership, that sort of thing. But if all the money was going into one pot and everybody had access to it, then you couldn't get retroactive support. 

Sarah Encarnacion: But what if Cody had other pots? 

Billie Tarascio: Well, right. Yeah, or what if nobody did have access? Like, why were some properties titled in only one person's name?

What is that? This doesn't make any sense to me. 

Sarah Encarnacion: I would love, I would love for Megan, um, our forensic accountant at Modern Law, to... You know, explore this case. Totally. Like Megan. Pull, 

Billie Tarascio: pull the, pull the, the deeds on the houses, pull the, um, Corporation Commission documents, see what we can get from some tax returns.

Like, let's analyze this. It's amazing. And you know, 

Sarah Encarnacion: I don't want to accuse anybody of fraud. Like, that's so, uh, that's, We're not going to do that, right? Um, but there's a lot, there's like a lot of [00:23:00] history. There's a, there's a, like, three bankruptcies and, you know, people being listed on certain things and not, and money being moved around, and this mysterious family fund, but some of them have their own accounts or pots.

I don't, like, it's a lot. 

Billie Tarascio: It's a lot. It's a lot. And I bet a lot of this is public information, so we may have to do a part two. 

Sarah Encarnacion: That would be so fun. We should consider. So Janelle, back to Janelle. For example, are you saying Janelle could possibly, um, get retroactive child support for the past few years?

Billie Tarascio: Yes, I am. I mean, if Janelle wasn't being supported, and they weren't living together, she qualifies in Arizona for up to three years of back support. Now, Janelle is living in Arizona. She is. Yeah, I mean, absolutely. 

Sarah Encarnacion: Wow. Let me ask you really quick, Billie. You said discretionary. So, would things like thousands of hours of recorded episodes that were televised [00:24:00] be, um, could they be considered evidence?

Yes. So, like, if he was literally filmed, I just watched the latest episode last night, and he's like, I don't know, I'm even looking at the sink. I'm never gonna live here. Yes, 

Billie Tarascio: yes, 100 percent yes. And we practice law in family, we practice family law in Arizona, Janelle. Janelle, 

Sarah Encarnacion: somebody, somebody connect us with Janelle.

Billie Tarascio: Oh my gosh. We can go on the show. 

Sarah Encarnacion: Amazing. 

Billie Tarascio: Yeah, so interesting. So, 

Sarah Encarnacion: somebody asked, Um, something about, in my state, if a child continues education and is still going to school, child support can go until the age of 26. Did we cover this one? No, 

Billie Tarascio: we haven't. Um, in Arizona, child support does not go through college.

In, uh, Oregon, where I was formerly licensed and work, it could and it did go up to 21 if a child was in college, but in Arizona, it ends at, um, [00:25:00] 18 or 19, depending on when the child graduates. Wow, okay. Um, 

Sarah Encarnacion: let's see. Somebody asked, I'd like to know if Mary really needed to legally divorce Cody so that he had a chance to adopt her kids, or if the judge 

Billie Tarascio: would have allowed it.

Let's definitely talk about that. And, and I just remembered, um, I missed something. So I said that children can't sue for child support in states where child support goes to college. Like once a child was 18, um, in Oregon and going to college, then they were entitled to support. And then at that point, the child could actually sue for child support.

So, yeah. So when the child support is due to a parent, the child has no standing, but after they turn 18, if there's through college than the child would have standing to sue for child support. 

Sarah Encarnacion: Oh my gosh. I should go back and find the person who asked that question and ask like what state are they in?

I'm interested to know. 

Billie Tarascio: Sure. And then in terms of step parent adoption, step parent adoption does require [00:26:00] legal marriage. So it made perfect sense to me that if he wanted to do a stepparent adoption, um, that he would get married. Although you can do an adoption without being a stepparent. It's a, it's a different process though.

It is faster and easier to do a stepparent adoption than a, um, than another type of adoption. I have to wonder though, where is, where are those children's father? 

Sarah Encarnacion: Oh, there's a, there's a whole thing on that. Um, he's in Montana. Him and Robin, according to Robin, what she said on the episode, they had a very destructive marriage.

Uh, they were monogamous. Um, I know that the children were visiting, you know, regularly, maybe like, At least on a consistent basis, once or twice a year, something like that. Um, I think that there, I did read somewhere that there might have been some conflict with that agreement. Because, you know, he had to, he had to agree to termination along those lines for Cody to be able to adopt.

Yeah, 

Billie Tarascio: and I wonder, like, where that was. [00:27:00] Was that in Nevada, or was that here in Arizona? So it 

Sarah Encarnacion: definitely would not 

Billie Tarascio: have been in Arizona. Okay, because in Arizona, I doubt a judge would have allowed this because you can't just volunteer to terminate your parental rights. In Arizona, a judge has to find that that's in the children's best interest.

And I don't know a ton about this case, but it sure as heck doesn't sound like it's in those children's best interest to lose their father who was part of their lives to go be part of... You know, to lose that when they, they just could have had, you know, Cody as a stepdad, so I don't know. Sure. 

Sarah Encarnacion: Yeah, there's layers to it.

You should definitely look into it. Very interesting. Okay, moving on to finance slash property. This is what we got a lot of questions about. Um, to elaborate a little bit more, it was 2018, early 2019, when the family moved to Flagstaff. It took them seven months to sell all four of those homes. In Nevada?

In, yeah, yeah. [00:28:00] So at certain times, like, they were paying for this land. They were paying for these rentals in Arizona. Um, and the mortgage in Arizona. And they were paying, like, mortgages! For these homes, like it was crazy, like so much money, like, I don't know, why did you guys go to Flagstaff? Mm hmm.

Flagstaff's not cheap. Not at all. Um, they purchased that land in like 2019 ish, they collectively paid 8, 000, or, uh, 8, 200, 000. Oh wait no, 820, 000. 820, 000 for the 

Billie Tarascio: land. Wow. 

Sarah Encarnacion: Which was separated into four parcels, I think. Okay. Um, three, approximately two and a half acres. One was five acres and it was owner financed.

Oh, interesting. Very interesting. They've just recently paid it all off. Wow. And so because it was owner financed, um, and maybe a couple other factors, they were not able [00:29:00] to actually start building on it until that land was paid off. Okay. Again, just amazing to me. Um, so according to deed records, Robin owns 52.

3 percent of the land. Janelle owns 32. 2. Mary owns 15. 5. Um, but each of the wives acres are jointly owned by Cody, and his name appears on the deed for each parcel of lands. So this gives Robin and Cody majority ownership. of the whole 

Billie Tarascio: property. Okay, so do you happen to know how these deeds are titled?

Are these, are they titled as joint tenants with a right of survivorship or do we know how this is owned? No, I 

Sarah Encarnacion: don't. 

Billie Tarascio: Okay, so they must have done it this way Probably to avoid having the [00:30:00] property seized as part of bankruptcy, probably, um. But it's just very interesting to me, like, how they chose to title property and why, and if we can still, if they can still make the argument that all of this was part of a larger general partnership that they were all equal owners to, I feel like there's some meat to that argument.

It's a creative argument, and I'm not a civil litigator, but... I feel like that is something that if I were one of these wives, I would want to look into. Can I make an argument that this is a general partnership where we are all equal owners, and therefore, can I get my share? 

Sarah Encarnacion: Wow. So what you said is huge, and I think that's what a lot of people want to know.

So can you repeat that? 

Billie Tarascio: Sure, so understanding that, disclaimer, disclaimer, disclaimer, I would go see a lawyer who knew more about this than I, but I am very creative, so I think that an argument can be [00:31:00] made that this family is, is a general partnership, and that they all work together. on behalf of one another for a common business purpose, and then they would all be equal owners.

Now, that may or may not be a good idea, depending on, like, does this general partnership, are they in debt, or do they have assets? Like, what's the network? Like, what are the, what are the, how can we get this divided? But my primary interest would be, how do we protect all of these wives? 

Sarah Encarnacion: Well, so Robin, in 2019, They purchased this house for almost 900k.

It's like 4, 400 square feet. It's huge. It's almost a million dollars. It costs more than the property. Is it 

Billie Tarascio: in Flagstaff, on the land? It's not on the land. It's a separate piece of real estate. Separate piece of real estate. Titled in Robin and Cody's name. Mm hmm. 

Sarah Encarnacion: Okay. Supposedly, it has increased, its value has increased by 150%, and according to [00:32:00] Zillow, it's now worth an estimated 1.

Billie Tarascio: million dollars. Okay, so then it might be worth talking to a lawyer about this general partnership concept theory that I have to see if there's any, um, legitimacy to it, because that is, yeah, if you bought property in Flagstaff in 2019, it's worth a lot more now.

Sarah Encarnacion: Interesting. So do Janelle and Mary and Christine have any legal right to the shared property? I think we kind of talked about that. Yeah, 

Billie Tarascio: so on its face, no. There's this thing called the statute of frauds that, um, says any agreements, uh, that have to do with property, specifically real property, has to be in writing.

So that might, might trump my general partnership concept theory, um, but You know, if there is a contract between these people, and I think there is, I think there's some sort of contract between them, and you can sufficiently determine [00:33:00] what the terms of that contract are, and somebody's breached the contract, then you would have a claim.

Mm hmm. Interesting. So we'd have to determine what is the agreement. Like, what did these people agree to? If they agreed that they would all be spiritually married and that had nothing to do with any business, it had everything to do with how they were going to raise their kids, and um, sex, and I don't even know if that is a enforceable contract, of course, because you know, there's some things that you can't contract for.

So, it's a crazy legal issue. 

Sarah Encarnacion: A lot of crazy legal issues, it sounds like. Yeah. Um, somebody asked, I'm with most here, what legal recourse for the wives financially and what about an audit of the family account? 

Billie Tarascio: Yeah, an audit of a family account could totally be reasonable, especially if they were all owners, and if there was an agreement on how this money would be paid.

Now, typically within a marriage, and back to the general [00:34:00] partnership, each partner is able to bind the other. So, I can go spend money on behalf of my family, and my family is stuck with my decisions. Unless there's some sort of a waste or breach of fiduciary duty. Right? Waste is the same thing kind of as a breach of a fiduciary duty where you have a general obligation to use the money from the partnership on behalf of the partnership.

Since Robin was then part of the partnership, could, could Cody and Robin argue that even the spending on their behalf was part of the overall partnership plan to grow their huge family and everybody consented to it? So child support's straightforward. The rest of it... I isn't. We'd have to look at how each thing was titled, if there was any overarching agreements, if those agreements are enforceable.

Also, the other thing that you could look at is an unpaid wages claim. I had a client once that was in a situation a little bit like this, where she, she took a job as a [00:35:00] nanny and she moved in with this family and it turned out that they were Essentially a polygamist cult and she was 19. Yes, and she got roped in and she lived there for years, and she ended up having a child and she escaped in the middle of the night with her mother and her child and I represented her and one of the claims that she had was she, she was you know, made to work and never paid.

So like an unpaid wages claim or, or an employment law claim was something that was possible. So the sister wives may be able to look into 

Sarah Encarnacion: that. Sure. Oh my 

Billie Tarascio: gosh. Gotta love family law. 

Sarah Encarnacion: Yeah. Um, so if Cody and Robin were being sued for the money, Mary and Janelle put into the big house. Cause that's important.

Um, some of the wives use the proceeds from their Las Vegas home sales to fund the, um, the big house as they call it, the mansion. So they assisted with the [00:36:00] down payment on that. 

Billie Tarascio: Okay, so then the question here is, what was that contribution? Was it a gift? Probably not. Probably not. It was probably funds used with some sort of expectation for a return.

So there's probably some sort of contract there or breach of contract claim. 

Sarah Encarnacion: Okay, um, supposedly Cody has been taking his name off things. I don't know a whole lot on that, but let's say this person means that he took his name off of. you know, that big house, the mansion. Sure. Wouldn't the courts think that the timing of him doing that in consideration of the departure of the said woman out of the relationship?

Or will that depend on their contract signed, if any, beforehand? 

Billie Tarascio: Yeah, so it could be a fraudulent transfer. Sometimes people fraudulently transfer a property for the purpose of getting it out of their names. And if you can [00:37:00] prove that something's a fraudulent transfer, then you can set aside that transfer and still get to that money.

Mmm, 

Sarah Encarnacion: yeah, I definitely, I definitely would not be surprised if we learned in the future that there was some creative, uh, movement of funds. Um, within this family. 

Billie Tarascio: Yeah, I mean, it seems like we could have lawsuits for years and years and decades. And it also seems like they have 

Sarah Encarnacion: money. Have had. 

Billie Tarascio: Have had, I mean, they've got assets.

So, um, figuring out how much money is at stake and what are all of the claims would absolutely be worth it, likely, for these wives. Mm 

Sarah Encarnacion: hmm. Um, last one in this section is, Are the women entitled to alimony? 

Billie Tarascio: Yeah, so no, no, you have to be legally married, legally married to be entitled to spousal maintenance in the state of 

Sarah Encarnacion: Arizona.

[00:38:00] Okay, moving on to Janelle. I have a whole section on Janelle. Because the people love Janelle. Like, she's one of my favorite people on the show. She's amazing. She's this, um, you know, very pragmatic personality. She's the one who manages a lot of their money and their finances. She's just, she just seems like easygoing and she's great.

So one of the most devastating moments of the show. in my opinion, was earlier in the season when things started to fall apart, um, with Janelle and Cody. It's around Christmas time. She's living in this tiny apartment while Cody and Robin are living in their mansion. He's not even acknowledging their minor child.

Even though it's the holidays, things are a disaster. So there's this video she recorded of herself. Um, there's a Christmas tree in the background. She's crying. Janelle, um, you know, has always regarded herself as the strong, independent, career [00:39:00] oriented woman, which is true. Um, she's the one who's very involved.

Janelle's amazing. She records herself, like, super emotional and crying, absolutely distraught. Um, and she's not a crier, so it's evident she's not okay, right? She says, financially, I have nothing. Christine had the house. I had nothing. My name is on the property with everybody else. Probably nobody will cooperate now.

I can't believe I'm 50 and I can't even do my own thing because I'm so tied up with them financially and I can't do anything. I'm stuck. I can't believe I got myself into this position. I know better. Um. That is so 

Billie Tarascio: sad. 

Sarah Encarnacion: It crushed me. Like, I might have even gotten teary eyed. 

Billie Tarascio: So sad. You should go see a lawyer, Janelle.

We are professional problem solvers. Our job is to listen to your story and help you get a path [00:40:00] out. You're probably not stuck. You probably have options. Not to say that your, um, the way you feel is a thousand percent legitimate, and we all wish we could go back and make different choices at certain times, but we can't.

The best you can do at this moment is get your options, figure out your options and make the best plan for you. And there comes a point in time when, when you're in your relationship, regardless of whether or not you're in a polygamous relationship or you're in a marriage or you're in any other type of partnership where you have to ask yourself, is this partnership working for me?

Is this partnership still mutually beneficial or am I being taken advantage of? And if you're being taken advantage of, it's time to pull the plug. Nobody is going to look out for you like you are. 

Sarah Encarnacion: Gosh. I, I, I hope that she knows that, um, you know, there's options and she's not feeling that way, you know, 

Billie Tarascio: still, because...

How devastating, right? When you invest [00:41:00] your love, your life, your time, your efforts into this joint venture and then have it, have your partners turn around and literally just screw you. 

Sarah Encarnacion: Sure, sure. And, and, and add the element of, like, your partner, your spouse. At one point he was so loving to these women. I really admired it and I respected him a lot.

Um, and, and, you know, he had, he has all these issues with some of the older children. They're harder to control once they get older, right? Um, and the, one of the sons, one of Janelle's sons, oh my goodness, this broke my heart. He, They have a recording of him, or an interview, and he was talking about, it was his birthday, his dad calls him, he thought his dad was going to say happy birthday, and they were talking about something completely irrelevant, um, and his dad completely didn't even realize it was his son's birthday.

Billie Tarascio: Ohhhh. 

Sarah Encarnacion: Yeah, that's just one example [00:42:00] of, you know, the conflict between Cody and his children, but that, for Janelle, I think, was 

Billie Tarascio: horrible. Yeah, yeah. And I can't imagine that he's the first dad to make that sort of mistake. Sure. But, what did you do? Like, is that an example of you simply being uninvested and not caring?

Probably. But probably this was just like icing on the cake that confirmed my dad doesn't love me, my dad's not paying attention to me. 

Sarah Encarnacion: Exactly. So, with Jamel, um, you know, there's a lot of loyalty and concern from, from the fans, from the Sister Wives community, um, of people who really care about her and really want her to get some kind of, like, I guess, justice, or...

You know? So, if you had a client in Janelle's position, what, if any, recourse would she have to get compensation from Cody and from Robin for the money they [00:43:00] misspent, um, and what about on the marital home? Again, I want to mention, when they moved to Flagstaff, Janelle gave half the proceeds from her Las Vegas home, so I'm thinking that was around 65k.

Yeah. To help Robin purchase this Flagstaff mansion. And they, in addition to that, they pulled money from the 

Billie Tarascio: family account. So the question is why? Was it a gift? Or did you have an expectation for a return on your investment? Um, and probably there was some sort of expectation, but we're going to have to be able to show that, that it wasn't a gift so that you can recoup that money.

And then the other thing is like, is there a way to work something out here? Are these people still on speaking terms? Are they truly just enemies now? I would 

Sarah Encarnacion: sense that at least with Janelle and uh, Cody and Robin, they are at least still on speaking terms. Okay, 

Billie Tarascio: well then how do we get a deal that is, that is workable?

Like maybe she takes the flat staff properties. [00:44:00] You know what I mean? Like, let's figure out, like, kind of like if we just look at this as a divorce, let's figure out the net worth of the total family and figure out how might it be split and is there a way to do that that would save them all from potential lawsuits, because I'm suggesting there might be potential lawsuits.

Well, we know when Christine 

Sarah Encarnacion: spiritually divorced, um, which again is not legal divorced, There was an agreement, so she had this home, and she sold it, and they had an agreement that she would keep all the proceeds from that sale, and he would, uh, she sold them, I think, her, um, parcel, her chunk of the land.

Quick deal. 

Billie Tarascio: The thing that's so fascinating about this is there is so much evidence. There's so much evidence of what they intended, what they bargained for, like what the deal was, and that can be a valid contract. Contracts don't have to be written to be valid, or not all of them. [00:45:00] 

Sarah Encarnacion: Wow, that's important. It is.

This podcast could be a total game changer. 

Billie Tarascio: Go ladies! Yes, 

Sarah Encarnacion: yes, yes, yes. Okay, so I think this is one of our last questions. Being there's tons of proof of shared finances. Yes. And cohabitation, couldn't Janelle take Kody to court and get her share? So possibly. Yes, 

Billie Tarascio: I mean, possibly. It's, it's possible. 

Sarah Encarnacion: Mm hmm.

Also, is this likely why Cody has been taking his name off things lately so she can't get anything if she comes after him? 

Billie Tarascio: Again, totally possible, and we have all this evidence of potential fraudulent transfer. Like, I think the show would probably love all of the lawsuits. It'd probably be great for the drama, but it's going to be, in my opinion, in these people's best interest to come up with a fair deal and settle because litigation is incredibly expensive, and sometimes it's the only way to get to a fair result.

Do you know any 

Sarah Encarnacion: civil litigators up there [00:46:00] in 

Billie Tarascio: Flagstaff? So many, so many. If you people are interested, contact me, we'll figure it out. 

Sarah Encarnacion: So could they possibly, um, like, so if for family law related stuff, like child support, I don't think custody would apply because, you know, the children are all adults, I think, aside from Robin's children.

Um, but for things like child support, custody, if it applied, they could see us and if they needed help with more of like the civil issues, we could help connect them to 

Billie Tarascio: other people. Well, yeah, so if the, if the children are over age, they're not going to get child support. Right? Or custody. So, we're really talking about business issues, and um, I don't know.

If they, if they, if they were interested in having me be involved, then I would probably co counsel with somebody who operates in civil court or something like that. I don't know. It's not really my wheelhouse, even though it's very interesting. So we would just get them to the right people. We would 

Sarah Encarnacion: get them to the right people, because they deserve to get to the right 

Billie Tarascio: people.

They do. They deserve to get to the right people. [00:47:00] Well, 

Sarah Encarnacion: this isn't even all of the questions that people were asking. I really do feel like we could do even more episodes. Yes. 

Billie Tarascio: Okay. Well for today, let's wrap up this episode of the Modern Divorce podcast. Sarah, thank you so much for coming on. I think that there is some research in order so that we can figure out these ownership interests, do some searching, and then maybe talk about it.

So people keep sending in your questions 

Sarah Encarnacion: about this Sister Wives. 

Billie Tarascio: Um, situation, and we'll see what we can figure out for you. Yes, love it. 

(Music, out)

Billie Tarascio: One consistent theme you'll hear from me, Billie Tarascio, is that we do not believe in a one size fits all solution. That's why, at Modern Law, you can find anything you need for your family law case.

For the highest stakes litigation cases, we've got experienced family law attorneys who can offer you representation. We also have embraced... Newly licensed legal paraprofessionals, who can offer you legal representation for less. And, if you just [00:48:00] need your documents prepared, we can offer certified legal document preparers as well.

If that's not for you, and instead you are representing yourself, congratulations. You are like one of the 70 percent of people out there doing it on your own. And our newest offering. Wynne Without Law School can help. For more information about in

To get representation options, go to MyModernLaw. com.

Who's who in the Sister Wives?
Isn't Bigamy illegal?
The property mess
Who does Cody really love?
Unwed parents: lies told about the kids
Unmarried parents and paternity
Can the wives seek retroactive support?
Who's going to help Janelle?
Terminating parental rights
Who owns what and did Janelle give away too much?
Cody takes his name off the deed
Fixing the mistakes. It's possible when you know the options
Was it a gift or not?