Britney Spears: Conservatorship, court battle and #FreeBritney explained
Written by on 10 November 2020
Britney Spears’ father has had strict control over his daughter’s life for 12 years, following the pop star’s very public breakdown in 2007.
Now, the singer is attempting to take charge of her personal affairs and finances once again – and has taken her fight to court.
Here is the background to Spears‘ conservatorship, and what could happen next.
Why is the star under a conservatorship?
Following the instant global success of her debut single Baby One More Time in 1998, Britney Spears was just a teenager when she became one of the biggest stars in the world.
Hit after hit after hit followed – Sometimes, Born To Make You Happy, Oops! I Did It Again, Lucky, I’m A Slave 4 U, Boys, Me Against The Music (with Madonna) and Toxic, to name just a few – and the star soon became known as the Princess of Pop.
In 2004, she married childhood friend Jason Alexander in a quickie Las Vegas ceremony that was annulled after just 55 hours, a sign that things were not quite right behind the perfect pop star image.
Later that year, Spears got married again, to dancer Kevin Federline, and the couple went on to have two sons, Sean Preston – whom she was later pictured driving with on her lap – and Jayden James, in 2005 in 2006. Just two months after her second birth, Spears filed for divorce.
Early in 2007, images of the star shaving her head and attacking photographers with an umbrella were published around the world, and she checked into a rehab facility.
The following year, Spears was admitted to hospital and later placed under the conservatorship led by her father.
Arrangements for a conservatorship, also known as a guardianship in many US states, are normally limited to people with severely diminished ability to make decisions for themselves, and are meant to be temporary.
How did Spears react?
The star seemed to be happy with the arrangements at first and despite her struggles, her pop career continued.
Spears released her sixth album, Circus – not so subtly highlighting what her life had become – in November 2008, with fame a dominant theme.
The albums Femme Fatale, Britney Jean and Glory came afterwards in 2011, 2013 and 2016.
In the years that followed the legal arrangements for the conservatorship, she remained mostly silent on the issue.
What has happened in recent years?
At the beginning of 2019, Spears announced an “indefinite work hiatus” to spend time with her family, revealing that her father had had emergency surgery on a ruptured colon in 2018 and had “almost died”.
She put her Britney: Domination residency shows in Las Vegas on hold to help with his recovery, she said, and has not performed live since.
For the first 11 years of the conservatorship, her father had been co-conservator with lawyer Andrew M Wallet. However, he resigned in 2019. Shortly afterwards, her father temporarily stepped down as conservator of Spears’ personal affairs, citing health reasons, but kept his role as conservator of her finances.
Earlier in 2020, it emerged that Spears’ sister, former Nickelodeon star Jamie Lynn Spears, was made a trustee of the pop superstar’s multimillion-dollar estate in 2018.
Why is the conservatorship making headlines again now?
In August, Spears began publicly seeking to choose who oversees her life and money and the issue was brought before the courts once again, in proceedings that are mainly taking place in private.
She said she strongly objected to her father returning as conservator of her person, and wants to make her approved replacement, Jodi Montgomery, permanent in the role.
In September she went even further, asking that a corporate fiduciary, the Bessemer Trust, becomes conservator of her finances instead of her father.
James Spears first filed to have Mr Wallet return as his co-conservator instead, but Mr Wallet withdrew after Spears objected. He subsequently said he would work with the Bessemer Trust, but now the star is insisting that such an arrangement would be “doomed to failure” and her father needs to be out entirely, according to the AP news agency.
Documents filed by her court-appointed attorney for the conservatorship, Samuel Ingham III, state that the singer’s father was clearly planning to attempt “to retain full functional control of her assets, books and records in the face of Britney’s objections”.
In his own filings, James Spears has argued that he has done a good job of looking after his daughter’s finances, taking the star’s estate from being in debt and facing tens of millions in lawsuits to its current value of more than $60m (£45m).
“Mr Spears is doing exactly what he is supposed to be doing as conservator of the estate; he should be commended, not suspended,” one court filing said.
James Spears did all this, the filing argued, while working hard to restore his daughter “to good health, reunite her with her children, and revive her career”.
“Throughout his service as conservator, Mr Spear’s sole motivation has been his unconditional love for his daughter and a fierce desire to protect her from those trying to take advantage of her,” the document said.
What is #FreeBritney?
A protest by fans – #FreeBritney – has gathered momentum.
A small but vocal group believes the singer is being kept prisoner in her Los Angeles area home and that she is sending cryptic signals – which usually consist of selfies or dancing videos – begging to be freed through her social media accounts.
The fans have been staging protests outside court when hearings have been taking place.
And the movement appears to have been endorsed by Spears’ team, with Mr Ingham saying in a court filing: “Britney’s conservatorship has attracted an unprecedented level of scrutiny from mainstream media and social media alike.
“Far from being a conspiracy theory or a ‘joke’ as James reportedly told the media, in large part this scrutiny is a reasonable and even predictable result of James’ aggressive use of the sealing procedure over the years to minimise the amount of meaningful information made available to the public.”
What happens now?
On Tuesday afternoon in LA, Judge Brenda Penny is due to hear arguments on behalf of Spears, one of which seeks to remove James Spears as co-conservator.
It is not clear whether the judge will make her decision on the day – she may seek time to come to a conclusion, or ask that arguments continue on another date.
Spears, 38, is expected to take part in the hearing by phone, due to pandemic guidelines.
The proceedings are likely to be closed to the public and media. This has been the case so far at the request of James Spears and his attorneys, who have argued for his daughter’s need for privacy.
But in her recent spate of filings, Spears has argued the secrecy has not been helpful.
Mr Ingham said that although the order is supposedly for her “protection”, she is “vehemently opposed to this effort by her father to keep her legal struggle hidden away in the closet as a family secret”.