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Questions around why does Britney Spears have a conservatorship and why isn’t she free to make her own decisions about her body, career and life have come to the fore in recent years thanks to the tireless campaigning of the #FreeBritney movement.
She’s one of the biggest and best-selling female artists in the world. Yet for over a decade Britney Spears has been unable to make decisions for herself owing to a court agreement known as a conservatorship.
As the #FreeBritney movement gained mass support and international attention, the singer’s troubled personal life has been thrown back into the spotlight as a result of various documentaries about her and her conservatorship, such as the New York Times documentary Framing Britney.
Why does Britney Spears have a conservatorship?
Britney Spears was first placed under a conservatorship because her parents were concerned about her mental wellbeing.
In February 2008, Britney’s father Jamie Spears applied for an emergency temporary conservatorship for his daughter.
A conservatorship is a court-ordered arrangement under US law that deems a person unfit to make important personal, professional and financial decisions for themselves. They are often granted in circumstances where a person has dementia or other physical or mental disabilities which prevent them from making sound life decisions.
At the time, Britney was a patient at the UCLA medical centre and undergoing a three-day psychiatric evaluation. This was her second hospital visit that year, with Britney previously admitted on January 3 after refusing to return her two children to their father, ex-husband Kevin Federline.
This incident coupled with a series of public events which saw the singer shave her head and hit a photographer’s car with an umbrella, sparked concern about her mental welfare.
LA Superior Court Commissioner Reva Goetz approved the temporary conservatorship, appointing Jamie Spears as his daughter’s guardian. This gave him legal power over the star’s health care and control of her estate and finances. Which Forbes Magazine estimated as $60 million in 2021.
As the conservatorship is a legally binding agreement, any changes must be addressed and approved by the court.
How long has Britney been under a conservatorship?
Britney Spears has been under a conservatorship for 13 years.
The temporary conservatorship granted to her father in February 2008 was made permanent in September 2008. And Britney has been under the conservatorship ever since.
During this time Britney has been able to continue her music career – recording albums, touring the world and performing at a four-year Las Vegas residency. She also appeared as a guest judge on the X Factor USA in 2012.
However in January 2019, Britney announced she was taking an “indefinite work hiatus” after her father’s period of bad health.
“I want to be with my family at this time just like they have always been there for me,” she said in a statement.
In September 2019, Jamie Spears temporarily stepped down as her personal conservator due to his health issues. He was temporarily replaced by care professional Jodi Montgomery, who will stay on till at least September 2021.
This marked a huge change in the conservatorship – which is made up of two parts: one for her private estate and finances and one for her as a person. Jamie had previously remained in charge of both for 11 years before this temporary step back.
Almost a year later, Britney’s attorney filed a petition that “strongly opposed” her father returning as sole conservator of her person once back to full health. A lawyer said that the popstar was “afraid of her father” and that she would not return to the stage as long as he retains control.
Is Britney free of her conservatorship?
No, Britney is currently still under a conservatorship. This is despite efforts the star has made to remove her dad as her conservator.
In November 2020, a judge declined to completely remove Jamie Spears from the agreement and extended her father’s financial conservatorship until September 2021. However, Britney’s dad will now have to share his responsibilities with new co-conservator the Bessemer Trust. This was seen as a small win for the star, with the private finance firm chosen by Britney’s lawyer Samuel Ingham.
In March this year Britney petitioned for care manager Jodi Montgomery to replace her dad permanently as her personal conservator. This would prevent Jamie from returning to manage her personal life, but would still see him remain in charge of her finances.
As part of the petition, Britney was required to give her view of the conservatorship – the first time she has publicly spoken about it in 13 years.
What has Britney said about her conservatorship?
Britney described her conservatorship as “abusive” in a 20-minute video appearance at the LA courthouse on 23 June 2021.
“I’ve lied and told the whole world I’m okay and I’m happy,” she said addressing past Instagram posts. “I’ve been in denial. I’ve been in shock. I am traumatised. I’m not happy. I can’t sleep. I’m so angry it’s insane. And I’m depressed. I cry every day.”
Britney said that she wanted to marry her long-term boyfriend Sam Asghari and have another baby. But that her conservator had stopped her removing her contraceptive device so she can’t get pregnant.
“I feel ganged up on and I feel bullied and I feel left out and alone,” she added. “I deserve to have the same rights as anybody does, by having a child, a family, any of those things.”
The 39-year-old also said that he been forced to take the drug lithium against her wishes which made her “feel drunk”. Lithium is a medicine prescribed to those diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Dad Jamie Spears responded to the claims via his legal team.
“He is sorry to see his daughter suffering and in so much pain,” said his lawyer Vivian Thoreen in court. “Mr Spears loves his daughter, and he misses her very much.”
Britney made it clear that she wanted the conservatorship to end, but no legal rulings have been made on the decision as yet.
What is the #FreeBritney movement?
#FreeBritney is a campaign by fans who are petitioning for her conservatorship to end.
The singer’s followers believe that Britney was forced into the arrangement in 2008 and is being kept in the conservatorship against her will.
Organisers regularly assemble outside the court hearings to protest the situation. They have also caused the hashtag to go viral online and through social media. And have set up a change.org petition which has clocked up more than 150,000 signatures since it was created in 2019.
That particular petition claims: “Her father doesn’t allow her to drive, all of her calls & messages are monitored, she’s not allowed to vote, hang with anyone or spend her money without permission. And if she breaks a ‘rule’ he threatens to have her kids taken away.”
Other #FreeBritney supporters have accused her dad of helping himself to her millions. Something Jamie Spears has vehemently denied.
He told Page Six: “All these conspiracy theorists don’t know anything. It’s up to the court to decide what’s best for my daughter. It’s no one else’s business. I have to report every nickel and dime spent to the court every year. How the hell would I steal something?”
Another insider supported Jamie’s claim, telling US Weekly that “every staple, pen, storage rental, is accounted for.” They added: “The idea that he is living this grand lifestyle at the expense of Britney’s health is laughable.”
According to the New York Times, #FreeBritney started in 2009, when a Spears fan site, BreatheHeavy.com, launched a campaign to release Britney from the new conservatorship setup.
Several celebrities have thrown their support behind the movement, including Miley Cyrus and former friend Paris Hilton.
Fellow singer Mariah Carey tweeted: “We love you Britney!!! Stay strong.” Whilst ex-boyfriend Justin Timberlake said “No one should EVER be held against their will… or ever have to ask permission to access everything they’ve worked so hard for.” He added that he sent his “absolute support to Britney during this time.”
As for what’s next in the legal proceedings, LA Circuit Judge Brenda Penny, who heard the pop star’s testimony, told Britney that she will have to submit a petition officially requesting the termination of the conservatorship.
An investigator will also speak to her parents and the Bessemer Trust. These will then be presented to Judge Penny, who will make the final decision.
Another hearing is set for July 14th. According to an Associated Press report, these legal proceedings are likely to go on for some time before any decision on ending the conservatorship will be made.