In early 2017, Fualaau grabbed national headlines when he filed for legal separation from his wife, who was his former elementary school teacher. But the source says the couple has reconciled.
“They’re back together,” the source says. “They’ve worked through a lot of issues in the past year. They just needed to take a step back and realize what they mean to each other. Of course there are still issues, like all marriages, but they’re very much together.”
The couple’s relationship notoriously traces back to the classroom.
It started when she was 34 and he was her 12-year-old sixth-grade student. (They first met when he was in her second-grade class.)
Following a guilty plea in the ’90s for felony second-degree rape of a child, Letourneau was sentenced to six months behind bars, with three months suspended, and told to have no contact with Fualaau for life. But she was unable to stay away from him and was re-arrested when she was caught having sex with him, again, in a car.
Letourneau was sent back to prison and was released in 2004. She twice became pregnant with Fualaau’s child when he was underage. She remains a registered sex offender in Washington state.
Despite the illegality of their relationship, the couple insisted they were in love and eventually married and raised their two daughters together.
When Fualaau filed for legal separation in early 2017, sources quickly said that he and Letourneau might not ultimately divorce. They were repeatedly spotted together around the Seattle area, where they have lived for years.
In May, some of those close to the couple spoke to A&E’s Autobiography, saying that they were working on the marriage.
“When the news came out that he filed for separation, people were stunned,” friend Anne Bremner told the show. “They’d been together all this time.”
“I’m gonna tell you why she refuses to speak about it,” added longtime friend Mark Greenberg. “It’s because she doesn’t know the answer to it. She’s living in hope. Mary wants this relationship to work. Vili’s in his mid 30s, and Mary’s in her mid 50s, and you just have to relate it to anyone else you know and their relationship issues.”
“Mary’s hopeful,” Greenberg continued then. “She loves Vili. There’s absolutely no question about that.”
David Gehrke, another friend, told A&E the two were “in counseling” and still “living together.”
“They’re working on their problems,” he said. “Everybody wants a good love story.”
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Appearing on Sunday Night on Australia’s Channel 7 in September, Letourneau defended her relationship with Fualaau, claiming she did not realize sex with him while he was a child was illegal.
“If someone had told me, if anyone had told me, ‘There is a specific law that says this is a crime’ — I did not know,” she told the show, “I wouldn’t have done it.”
When asked if she was wrongly convicted, Letourneau replied, “Absolutely.”
In the interview, she and Fualaau both reiterated that they were in love when they got married — and still remained connected.
“They have built a life together,” the source tells PEOPLE. “All long marriages have long histories, and most of them have messy parts to them. They have had their ups and downs, but they remained committed.”
Letourneau, now 56, is a paralegal at the same court where she faced trial 21 years ago. Fualaau, 35, has worked in a home improvement store and as a part-time DJ.
“No matter what anyone thinks of their relationship, it worked for a long time and continues to work on many levels,” the source says. “I wouldn’t bet against them.”