EXPLAINER: How conservatorships like Britney Spears’ work
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Britney Spears has successfully ousted her father from the conservatorship that controls her life and money, and she is likely to be freed to make her own decisions in November.
Here’s a look at how conservatorships operate, what’s unusual about hers, and why she and so many fans have worked to #FreeBritney.
HOW DO CONSERVATORSHIPS WORK?
When a person is considered to have a severely diminished mental capacity, a court can step in and grant someone the power to make financial decisions and major life choices for them.
California law says a conservatorship, called a guardianship in some states, is justified for a “person who is unable to provide properly for his or her personal needs for physical health, food, clothing, or shelter,” or for someone who is “substantially unable to manage his or her own financial resources or resist fraud or undue influence.”
The conservator, as the appointee put in charge is called, may be a family member, a close friend or a court-appointed professional.
HOW DOES SPEARS’ WORK?
With a fortune of more than $50 million comes secrecy, and the court closely guards the inner workings of Spears’ conservatorship.
Some aspects have been revealed in documents. The conservatorship has the power to restrict her visitors. It arranges and oversees visits with her sons, ages 14 and 15; father Kevin Federline has full custody. It has the power to take out restraining orders in her name, which it has used more than once to keep away interlopers deemed shady. It has the power to make her medical decisions and her business deals. She said at a June hearing that she has been compelled to take drugs against her will, has been kept from having an intrauterine device for birth control removed and has been required to undertake performances when she didn’t want to.
Spears said at the June hearing that she had been denied the right to get married, but she has since gotten engaged to longtime boyfriend Sam Asghari. The conservatorship will make a prenuptial agreement a necessity if she is still under it when she marries.
Legally, Spears can get married, but the conservatorship must approve it as with other major life decisions. Spears said Wednesday that she wants to get married and have another child, but has been denied the chance to do either.
Like all California conservatorships, it’s subject to annual accountings and reviews from a court investigator.
WHO HAS POWER OVER SPEARS?
The ultimate power in the conservatorship falls to Judge Brenda Penny, who exercised it by suspending James Spears, and is likely to use it again to terminate the legal arrangement entirely in November, something she has been free to do at any time.
Before his suspension, her father had the lion’s share of day-to-day power over his daughter’s choices for 13 years. In 2019, he gave up the role of conservator over her life decisions, maintaining control only over her finances. He has now been now been replaced by John Zabel, an accountant chosen by Britney Spears and her attorney.
Jodi Montgomery, a court-appointed professional, has acted as conservator over her personal matters since 2019.
WHY ARE SO MANY CALLING TO #FREEBRITNEY?
Fans who dote on Britney Spears’ social media posts and public statements, trying to decipher her every utterance, dance move or shared meme, have increasingly coalesced into a movement after becoming convinced she was being controlled unfairly. Key were two women who in 2017 turned their hobby of picking apart Spears’ Instagram posts into a podcast, “ Britney’s ’Gram.” It would help birth the hashtag #FreeBritney.
Hearings can bring dozens of protesters to the courthouse, carrying signs like “CONSERVATORSHIP IS SLAVERY” and “THIS IS TOXIC.”
James Spears has called the group conspiracy theorists, and says those who shout #FreeBritney don’t understand the totality of the situation.
Fans in the movement have increasingly felt vindicated by Britney Spears herself, especially after two dramatic speeches in court this summer in which the singer confirmed many of their statements and suspicions about her.
And they believe their voices were key in bringing attention to the conservatorship and helping to bring about its probably end.
WHY WAS IT IMPOSED IN THE FIRST PLACE?
In 2007 and 2008, shortly after she became a mother, she began to have very public mental struggles, with media outlets obsessed over each moment. Hordes of paparazzi aggressively followed her every time she left her house, and she no longer seemed able to handle it.
She attacked one cameraman’s car with an umbrella. She shaved her head at a salon. She lost custody of her children. When she refused to turn over her boys after a visit, she was hospitalized and put on a psychiatric hold. The conservatorship was put in place within days.
WHY HAS IT GONE ON SO LONG?
A conservatorship can always be dissolved by the court, though it’s rare that a person successfully asks to be released, which Spears is on the verge of doing.
They can last decades because the circumstances that lead to them, like traumatic brain injury, Alzheimer’s, or dementia, are not things people just bounce back from. The mandatory secrecy of medical records has kept murky the reasons why Britney Spears has had to remain in hers for so many years, but it’s clear that it involves psychiatric issues. A recent filing said that she wasn’t capable of giving consent for medical treatment.
Spears’ father and his attorneys justified the continued conservatorship by arguing that she was especially susceptible to people who seek to take advantage of her money and fame.
HOW DOES SPEARS FEEL ABOUT ALL OF THIS?
For years it was largely a mystery. But allowed to speak publicly in court in June, she called the conservatorship “abusive” and “stupid” and says it does her “way more harm than good.”
But she was clear that more important even than ending the conservatorship was seeing her father removed from it.
Follow AP Entertainment Writer Andrew Dalton on Twitter: twitter.com/andyjamesdalton