#FreeBritney: The Britney Spears Conservatorship Case Explained

For nearly half of her music career, Spears hasn’t held full control over her life.

On April 22nd 2019, a group of devoted Britney Spears fans gathered outside West Hollywood City Hall, armed with banners boldly marked with the Free Britney hashtag. Dressed in her merchandise, the group played her hits and voiced their concerns for the pop star’s welfare to reporters. At the forefront of their concerns was Spears’ long-running conservatorship. For nearly half of her music career, Spears hasn’t held full control over her life. Following the pop star’s public breakdown in 2007, Spears was placed under a conservatorship, navigated by her father Jamie Spears. Most recently, the #FreeBritney movement has made a resurgence due to an anonymous lawyer voicing their concerns over Spears’ well-being and a recent court hearing in which the pop star spoke out about the details of her conservatorship. Spears revealed she had been forced to take lithium, had been prevented from seeing friends, and had been kept from having her IUD removed despite her wishes to have another child. 

What is a conservatorship?

Under US law, conservatorship is a legal concept allowing a judge to grant a guardian total control over a person’s finances if the individual is deemed to be physically or mentally unable to manage them on their own. A conservator may be responsible for their conservatee’s estate, day-to-day life, living arrangements, health decisions, and more. 

Many conservators are guardians for elderly people or are the parents of developmentally disabled adults. A general conservatorship, established in a probate court by a judge, forbids the guardian to force medical treatment on the conservatee and is typically not temporary unless a person is deemed to be putting themselves at risk. A conservator must regularly report to the court that appointed them to their position. 

Why was Britney Spears put under conservatorship?

Spears was put under conservatorship after her public breakdown in 2007. Around this time, Spears’ behaviour was seemingly erratic. She shaved her head, attacked a paparazzo’s vehicle with an umbrella, and was put under a “5150 hold”  in a psychiatric hospital. This led to her father petitioning courts for an emergency “temporary” conservatorship, as he believed his daughter was no longer capable of managing herself and her finances amid the deterioration of her mental health.

Why does Britney Spears want her father removed as conservator?

In August 2020, Spears’ court-appointed attorney stated that Spears “strongly opposed” her father’s position as her sole conservator and asked the court to limit his control. She requested that her father’s replacement, Jodi Montgomery, be named as conservator of her person. Montgomery, a professionally licensed conservator, stepped in temporarily as conservator in 2019 when Spears’ father voluntarily took a break due to health reasons. 

Last November, a judge granted Spears’ wishes to appoint an outside financial group, Bessemer Trust, as co-conservator. However, Spears wants Bessemer Trust to take on sole conservatorship of her estate and for her father to be removed, which is being fought against by Spears’ father and his legal team. 

Spears’ attorney has stated that Spears is a high-functioning conservatee who deserves to be aware of the actions that her father could be taking over her estate. Her attorney also said that Spears is afraid of her father, who she has not spoken to for a long time. In February, Spears’ counsel warned it would be highly detrimental to Spears’ interests to allow her father to be the sole conservator in charge of her estate. There were also warnings of potential financial, physical, and emotional abuse from Brennan-Krohn, staff attorney at the ACLU’s Disability Rights Programme. 

The road to the end of Spears’ conservatorship is long. The first key step will be for Spears to file a formal petition to end her conservatorship, which she says she didn’t even know she had the power to do until recently. Once Spears files a petition, the court will need to rule on it, accounting for whatever new evidence Spears presents to support her case. The timeline for the case depends substantially on whether her father or others involved in the conservatorship object. If they do not, the conservatorship will likely be dissolved. However, if they do object, a neuropsychologist could be appointed to assess Spears’ mental health and another trial would likely be held to determine whether or not the conservatorship should end, be adjusted, or remain unchanged.

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