Briefing

Is Britney Spears finally 'free'?

A judge has suspended Britney Spears' father from her conservatorship. What's next for the pop star?

A judge has suspended Britney Spears' father from her conservatorship. What's next for the pop star? 

What is a conservatorship, and why is Britney Spears in one? 

A conservatorship is a court-ordered arrangement under which a person can have their life and finances controlled by another individual or group — a conservator — appointed by a judge. Spears' conservatorship began in 2008, and her father, Jamie Spears, has served as conservator of her estate, while Jodi Montgomery serves as conservator of her person. Jamie Spears moved to have Britney Spears placed under a conservatorship after the pop star was hospitalized on psychiatric hold in early 2008, which came as she had been experiencing a public breakdown amid her divorce and subsequent custody battle. The conservatorship was initially temporary, but was later made permanent and has continued for 13 years. 

Why is it still in place? 

Jamie Spears has long maintained that his daughter's conservatorship has been necessary and that it helped get her "through a major life crisis." But proponents of a movement known as #FreeBritney have argued the singer falls short of the criteria necessary for a conservatorship, as they're meant to be reserved for those who are impaired and deemed unable to care for themselves. The same year Spears' conservatorship began, she released a new studio album and appeared on How I Met Your Mother. She also went on tour the following year and since 2008 has released three additional albums. "I've represented dozens of conservatees in court," conservatorship attorney Tony Chicotel said in the Netflix documentary Britney Vs Spears. "Not one of them has ever had a job." 

Has Britney Spears spoken about her conservatorship? 

The #FreeBritney movement gained steam in 2019 after Britney Spears abruptly canceled her Las Vegas residency, and the following year, her attorney said that she is "afraid of her father" and was refusing to perform again while he was in charge of her career. A popular documentary from The New York Times, Framing Britney Spears, brought more attention to the case in February 2021. But Spears herself didn't address the situation publicly until an explosive June 2021 hearing, during which she decried the arrangement as "abusive" and alleged her father has "loved" having the "control to hurt his own daughter." She also claimed the conservatorship has been so restrictive that she wasn't permitted to have another baby, and that she was put on lithium against her will and forced to work seven days a week in a situation she compared to sex trafficking. Documents obtained by The New York Times later showed that Spears objected to the conservatorship as an "oppressive and controlling tool against her" at least five years prior to this testimony. 

What was the fallout of that testimony? 

In the aftermath, Bessemer Trust, which had been appointed co-conservator of Spears' estate, withdrew in order to respect "her wishes." Spears' court-appointed lawyer since the beginning of the conservatorship, Sam Ingham, also resigned. Ingham had been facing questions about Spears' claim during her testimony that she was unaware she could petition to end the conservatorship. In a major victory for the singer, a judge in July allowed her to hire her own lawyer, former federal prosecutor Mathew Rosengart. He subsequently filed to remove Jamie Spears as conservator, and he also nominated certified public accountant John Zabel to temporarily replace Jamie Spears after his potential removal but prior to the end of the conservatorship. 

What did Jamie Spears want?  

In a surprise reversal, Jamie Spears in August agreed to step down as conservator of his daughter's estate. But he was also firmly against the request to immediately suspend him from the conservatorship, and never specified when he would step aside, only saying he was "willing" to when "the time is right."  The following month, he filed a petition to end the conservatorship completely. Rosengart suggested this was an attempt to "avoid accountability and justice" for his actions as conservator, as well as to avoid turning over documents to a potential replacement. Jamie Spears had also been reportedly seeking $2 million before leaving the conservatorship, which he said he needed to pay agents and lawyers; Rosengart described this as a "quid pro quo." Rosengart argued for suspending Jamie Spears prior to the end of the conservatorship, as he vows to investigate his conduct

What did the judge decide? 

During a highly-anticipated hearing on Sept. 29, Judge Brenda Penny sided with the pop star and her lawyer, officially suspending Jamie Spears as conservator. "The current situation is not tenable," she said. Additionally, the judge granted Britney Spears' request to have Zabel replace her father temporarily as the conservator of her estate. Jodi Montgomery will remain as conservator of Spears' person. 

So is Britney finally 'free'? 

Britney Spears has been largely focused on fighting to remove her father from the conservatorship, so this latest decision was a monumental victory for her, though it didn't mark the complete end of the story. The conservatorship remains in place for now, and one outstanding question is whether it will be terminated without Spears needing to undergo another psychological evaluation. Both Britney and Jamie Spears had moved to end the conservatorship without having her evaluated, although some experts have expressed doubt that the judge would agree to this. Rosengart has called for the conservatorship to be terminated this fall, and the next hearing is set for Nov. 12

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