The legal controversy surrounding Britney Spears is no secret. The pop star has fought for changes to her court-appointed conservatorship, which has controlled her career and finances since 2008. Most notably, she sought the removal of her father, Jamie Spears, from a leading role in the conservatorship.
Her father currently serves as a co-conservator of the singer’s estate, alongside an outside financial group, Bessemer Trust. Britney’s lawyers have said she would no longer perform as long as her father was in charge.
The legal case has renewed interest following the release of a New York Times documentary, “Framing Britney Spears,” which follows the beloved pop star’s rise to fame, public breakdown and recent comeback. The singer said she didn’t watch the documentary but was “embarrassed” by it, saying she “cried for weeks” after its release.
What is a conservatorship?
A conservatorship is legally defined as a court case where a judge appoints an individual or organization, called the conservator, to care for someone who “cannot care” for themselves or who cannot manage their own finances, according to the Judicial Branch of California.
Zoe Brennan-Krohn, a staff attorney with the ACLU, told CBS News conservatorship laws will vary from state to state, making it difficult to determine exactly how many exist across the country.
The law supports conservatorships when less restrictive options are ruled out, Brennan-Krohn said, but too often, they’re granted as a “first resort” when someone encounters difficulties or experiences age-related disabilities.
Brennan Krohn said Britney is “one of the untold thousands nationwide” under a guardianship or conservatorship, calling her case unique because of her fame and fortune. “But it is also interesting because it is, in some ways, quite typical. We see across the country that people get into conservatorships and guardianships that they can’t get out of.”
How did we get here?
In 2008, James Spears, who goes by Jamie, was granted the conservatorship after Britney purportedly struggled with mental health issues and was hospitalized. After Britney was released, a Los Angeles court made the conservatorship permanent, giving her father and another co-conservator power over her finances and medical decisions.
Jamie argues that his conservatorship is working. Under his order, his legal team says, Britney’s estate has gone from being in debt to having a valuation of more than $60 million.
In November 2020, his legal team said Jamie has worked hard to restore Britney 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,” Jamie’s legal team wrote. “He wants his daughter to be happy, healthy, protected and thriving. His love for Britney is a material factor in how he has been able to turn her estate around from being in the red to what it is now.”
Why does Britney want her father out?
In August 2020, the pop star’s court-appointed attorney said Britney “strongly opposed” her father’s position as the sole conservator of her estate and asked the court to limit his control. Her attorney, Samuel D. Ingham III, said Britney “strongly prefers to have a qualified corporate fiduciary in the role” and she’s made several attempts to do so.
Britney requested that Jamie’s temporary replacement, Jodi Montgomery, be named the permanent conservator of her person. Montgomery, a professionally licensed conservator, temporarily took over the role in 2019 when Jamie volunteered to briefly step down, citing health reasons.
In November of last year, a judge granted the singer’s wish to appoint an outside financial group, Bessemer Trust, as co-conservator. She is still requesting the court to remove her father and allow Bessemer Trust to become the sole conservator of her estate — something Jamie and his legal team have continued to fight, arguing that his powers had been stripped away.
In court, Ingram reportedly called Britney a “high-functioning conservatee” who deserves to know what action her father might be taking over her estate. He also said his client is “afraid of her father” and that she had not spoken to him for a long time.
On February 3, the singer’s counsel said “it would be highly detrimental to Britney’s interests” to allow her father to be the sole person in charge of her estate.
Attorneys for both Britney and Jamie Spears did not immediately respond to CBS News’ request for comment.
Brennan-Krohn, who works on the ACLU’s Disability Rights Program, said there are certain risks that could come with the appointment, including “financial, physical and emotional abuse.”
“Even when there is no abuse, conservatorships limit a person’s ability to advocate for themselves, learn from their decisions and mistakes, and grow and develop. There is a risk in being told that your opinions, your likes and dislikes, don’t matter — it makes it harder to stand up to abuse or neglect,” she said.
“In any conservatorship, we would want to know that the real risks (and benefits) of both conservatorship and its alternatives have been seriously weighed.”
What has Britney said about the case?
Britney has remained tight-lipped throughout the legal battle, speaking only through her legal team and by making subtle comments over the years.
The Times series plays a clip from the MTV documentary “Britney: For The Record,” where Britney spoke about the limits to her personal freedom. It’s unclear if she was speaking directly to the conservatorship.
“If I wasn’t under the restraints that I’m under right now, you know, with all the lawyers and doctors and people analyzing me every day and all that kind of stuff, if that wasn’t there, I’d feel so liberated and feel like myself. I’m kind of stuck in this place, and it’s like, how do you deal? I just cope with it every day,” she told the interviewer. “When I tell them the way I feel, it’s like they hear me but they’re really not listening. They’re hearing what they want to hear. They’re not listening to what I’m telling them. It’s bad… I’m sad.”
When asked if her life was out of control, she disagreed and said, “It’s too in control. There’s no excitement. There’s no passion. It’s like ‘Groundhog’s Day,’ every day.”
In February, Britney tweeted a video of her performing her song “Toxic,” along with the message: “I’ll always love being on stage …. but I am taking the time to learn and be a normal person… I love simply enjoying the basics of everyday life.”
In a separate tweet, she wrote: “Each person has their story and their take on other people’s stories !!!! We all have so many different bright beautiful lives. Remember, no matter what we think we know about a person’s life it is nothing compared to the actual person living behind the lens.”
Her boyfriend, Sam Asghari, also criticized the singer’s father on Instagram. “Now it’s important for people to understand that I have zero respect for someone trying to control our relationship and constantly throwing obstacles our way. In my opinion, Jamie is a total d**k.”
The 27-year-old added: “I won’t be going into details because I’ve always respected our privacy but at the same time, I didn’t come into this country not to be able to express my opinion and freedom.”
What is #FreeBritney?
Many of Britney’s fans have staged protests outside the Los Angeles courthouse where status hearings are held in the case. There’s even a podcast, Britney’s Gram, which is dedicated to dissecting her Instagram and social media posts. Her fans have used the hashtag #FreeBritney to bring attention to her legal battle against her father.
In September of last year, Britney’s legal team acknowledged fans following her legal battle.
“At this point in her life when she is trying to regain some measure of personal autonomy, Britney welcomes and appreciates the informed support of her many fans,” her attorney said in opposition to her father’s attempts to seal information from the public. “Although the sealing motion is supposedly for her ‘protection,’ Britney herself is vehemently opposed to this effort by her father to keep her legal struggle hidden away in the closet as a family secret.”
“In this case, it is not an exaggeration to say that the whole world is watching.”