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Britney Spears: Singer’s conservatorship case explained

image copyrightReuters

image captionSpears appeared remotely at a hearing on 23 June

US pop star Britney Spears has called for an end to the “abusive” management of her business and personal affairs, telling an LA court: “I want my life back”.

The singer’s career has been in the hands of legal guardians in an arrangement known as a conservatorship since 2008 when she faced a public mental health crisis.

The court-ordered agreement gave her father, Jamie Spears, control over her estate and other aspects of her life.

But the singer later sought to dismiss her father from the role.

A grassroots movement of fans, known as the #FreeBritney campaign, wants the singer to regain autonomy over her affairs.

The prolonged legal row gained renewed attention in 2021 following the release of Framing Britney Spears – a documentary which centred on the conflict over the singer’s guardianship.

What is the conservatorship?

A conservatorship is granted by a court for individuals who are unable to make their own decisions, like those with dementia or other mental illnesses.

Spears’ conservatorship is split into two parts – one is for her estate and financial affairs, the other is for her as a person. Under this legal agreement, Spears has not controlled her finances since 2008.

Jamie Spears was initially in charge of both parts of the conservatorship but stepped down as his daughter’s personal conservator in 2019 because of health reasons. Jodi Montgomery, a care professional, replaced him on a temporary basis but Britney Spears has requested this be made permanent.

image copyrightGetty Images

image captionThe conservatorship gives the singer’s father (L) control over his daughter’s personal affairs

Confidential court records obtained by The New York Times showed that the pop star had voiced serious opposition to the conservatorship earlier than had previously been reported. They also showed that the conservatorship restricted aspects of her life, ranging from who she dated to the colour of her kitchen cabinets.

“She feels the conservatorship has become an oppressive and controlling tool against her,” a court investigator wrote in a 2016 report. The conservatorship had “too much control,” Spears said, according to the account of the conversation. “Too, too much!”

In November 2020, a judge declined to remove Mr Spears but named financial firm the Bessemer Trust as a co-conservator of her estate instead.

A month later, the judge extended Mr Spears’ conservatorship until September 2021.

Why was the conservatorship set up?

Spears began behaving erratically in 2007 after her divorce from Kevin Federline was finalised and she lost custody of their two children.

A series of public incidents raised concern about her mental welfare, with the star making headlines for shaving her head and hitting a photographer’s car with an umbrella.

In 2008 she was twice admitted to hospital under a temporary psychiatric assessment ruling, including after an incident in which she allegedly refused to surrender her sons in a stand-off involving police.

Timeline: The key dates

First taste of stardom

Britney Spears, 16, catapults to the top of global pop charts with her debut single …Baby One More Time.

The teenage Spears generated both controversy and a loyal fandom
Image caption The teenage Spears generated both controversy and a loyal fandom

Image copyright by Getty Images

More than 20 years later, her debut album of the same name remains the best-selling album by a teenage solo artist.

Personal struggles burst into public view

Spears is hounded by the press amid a tumultuous custody dispute with ex-husband Kevin Federline, allegations that she is an unfit mother and questions about her mental health.

Spears was often pictured fleeing from tabloid photographers
Image caption Spears was often pictured fleeing from tabloid photographers

Image copyright by Getty Images

Amid the tabloid frenzy, she is captured on camera shaving her head. A few days later, she smashes a paparazzo’s SUV repeatedly with an umbrella.

Spears’ father becomes her conservator

After stints in hospital and rehab, Spears’ father Jamie petitions a Los Angeles court to place his daughter under a temporary conservatorship. He is charged with making decisions about her career, as well as her estate and financial affairs.

The conservatorship is extended indefinitely later that year.

Spears leaving a restaurant in Beverly Hills with her father Jamie
Image caption Spears leaving a restaurant in Beverly Hills with her father Jamie

Image copyright by Getty Images

Las Vegas residency

Despite being unable to handle her own affairs, Spears continues to work. After rehabilitating her image with a successful seventh studio album and several appearances on television, she begins a four-year concert residency in Las Vegas.

Spears onstage at the Planet Hollywood resort in Las Vegas
Image caption Spears onstage at the Planet Hollywood resort in Las Vegas

Image copyright by Getty Images

Tussling over the conservatorship

Spears says she is taking a break from work because of her father’s health issues. Later in the year, Jamie Spears steps away as her conservator temporarily, citing his poor health.

Britney Spears indicates through her lawyers that she no longer wants her father to be involved in handling her career. A lawyer says Spears is “afraid of her father” and will not return to the stage as long as he retains control.

Framing Britney Spears film premieres

A New York Times documentary about the pop star’s rise and fall, as well as about her treatment by the media, generates mass public interest in her conservatorship.

The piece highlights the #FreeBritney movement, the legions of Spears fans who have stood beside the pop star and attempted to decode her public appearances as calls for help.

Her temporary conservatorship was established around this time and has been gradually extended for over a decade since – though specifics of the order have never been made public.

In the years under the conservatorship, Spears has not been short of work: she released three albums, held a successful Las Vegas residency, and made numerous television appearances, including a stint as a judge on the US X Factor.

image copyrightGetty Images

image captionSpears has been on an indefinite work hiatus since cancelling a Las Vegas residency in January 2019

As of 2018, Spears had a net worth of $59m (£46m), Business Insider reported, citing financial documents. In the same year, Spears spent $1.1m on legal and conservator fees, according to court documents obtained by the Entertainment Tonight website.

What is the #FreeBritney campaign?

The term #FreeBritney dates back to 2009, according to a New York Times report, from a fan site that disagreed with the conservatorship agreement.

After Spears abruptly cancelled a Las Vegas residency and checked into a mental health centre in 2019 citing emotional distress from her father’s illness, the campaign gained renewed prominence.

image copyrightReuters

image captionFans of the pop star have been gathering outside court for hearings about her conservatorship

Some of Spears’ fans believe she has been forced to stay under the arrangement and even asked the White House to end her conservatorship, submitting petitions with tens of thousands of signatures.

Campaigners for the #FreeBritney movement regularly demonstrate outside court hearings.

A number of celebrities have also expressed support for the campaign, including Paris Hilton, Bette Midler and Miley Cyrus.

What has Britney Spears said about all this?

For years, the singer herself never commented on the #FreeBritney or conservatorship battle directly – with her online persona tending to be upbeat and unrelated to the headlines surrounding her case.

Some supporters believed she used social media to send secret messages. They pointed to instances where she appeared to have responded to comments asking her to do things like wear a yellow outfit in her next post if she needed help.

But earlier this year a lawyer for the singer requested a hearing where she could address “the court directly” about her conservatorship.

In the much-anticipated hearing in a Los Angeles courtroom, the star asked the judge to end the “abusive” conservatorship so she can get married and have more children.

“I want to end this conservatorship without being evaluated,” Spears told the court in an emotional 20-minute address.

Spears condemned the arrangement, saying it forced her to use birth control to prevent her getting pregnant.

“This conservatorship is doing me way more harm than good,” she said, speaking remotely. “I deserve to have a life.”

The judge said her lawyer could file a formal petition to end the conservatorship.

Following Spears’s testimony, her father’s lawyer said he is “sorry to see his daughter suffering and in so much pain”.

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