Britney Spears: Singer's conservatorship case explained

·5 min read
Britney Spears arrives at the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards in New York
Spears appeared remotely at a hearing on 23 June

US pop star Britney Spears has called for an end to the "abusive" management of her business and personal affairs, telling an LA court: "I want my life back".

The singer's career has been in the hands of legal guardians in an arrangement known as a conservatorship since 2008 when she faced a public mental health crisis.

The court-ordered agreement gave her father, Jamie Spears, control over her estate and other aspects of her life.

But the singer later sought to dismiss her father from the role, and has called for him to be charged with "conservatorship abuse".

A grassroots movement of fans, known as the #FreeBritney campaign, wants the singer to regain autonomy over her affairs.

The prolonged legal row gained renewed attention in 2021 following the release of Framing Britney Spears - a documentary which centred on the conflict over the singer's guardianship.

What is the conservatorship?

A conservatorship is granted by a court for individuals who are unable to make their own decisions, like those with dementia or other mental illnesses.

Spears' conservatorship is split into two parts - one is for her estate and financial affairs, the other is for her as a person. Under this legal agreement, Spears has not controlled her finances since 2008.

Jamie Spears was initially in charge of both parts of the conservatorship but stepped down as his daughter's personal conservator in 2019 because of health reasons. Jodi Montgomery, a care professional, replaced him on a temporary basis but Britney Spears has requested that this be made permanent.

Singer Britney Spears and father Jamie (L)
The conservatorship gives the singer's father (L) control over his daughter's personal affairs

Confidential court records obtained by The New York Times showed that the pop star had voiced serious opposition to the conservatorship earlier than had previously been reported. They also showed that the conservatorship restricted aspects of her life, ranging from who she dated to the colour of her kitchen cabinets.

"She feels the conservatorship has become an oppressive and controlling tool against her," a court investigator wrote in a 2016 report. The conservatorship had "too much control," Spears said, according to the account of the conversation. "Too, too much!"

In November 2020, a judge declined to remove Mr Spears but named financial firm the Bessemer Trust as a co-conservator of her estate instead.

A month later, the judge extended Mr Spears' conservatorship until September 2021.

Why was the conservatorship set up?

Spears began behaving erratically in 2007 after her divorce from Kevin Federline was finalised and she lost custody of their two children.

A series of public incidents raised concern about her mental welfare, with the star making headlines for shaving her head and hitting a photographer's car with an umbrella.

In 2008 she was twice admitted to hospital under a temporary psychiatric assessment ruling, including after an incident in which she allegedly refused to surrender her sons in a stand-off involving police.

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Her temporary conservatorship was established around this time and has been gradually extended for over a decade since - though specifics of the order have never been made public.

In the years under the conservatorship, Spears has not been short of work: she released three albums, held a successful Las Vegas residency, and made numerous television appearances, including a stint as a judge on the US X Factor.

Singer Britney Spears attends the announcement of her new residency, "Britney: Domination" at Park MGM in October 2018
Spears has been on an indefinite work hiatus since cancelling a Las Vegas residency in January 2019

As of 2018, Spears had a net worth of $59m (£46m), Business Insider reported, citing financial documents. In the same year, Spears spent $1.1m on legal and conservator fees, according to court documents obtained by the Entertainment Tonight website.

What is the #FreeBritney campaign?

The term #FreeBritney dates back to 2009, according to a New York Times report, from a fan site that disagreed with the conservatorship agreement.

After Spears abruptly cancelled a Las Vegas residency and checked into a mental health centre in 2019 citing emotional distress from her father's illness, the campaign gained renewed prominence.

Supporters of singer Britney Spears gather outside a courthouse
Fans of the pop star have been gathering outside court for hearings about her conservatorship

Some of Spears' fans believe she has been forced to stay under the arrangement and even asked the White House to end her conservatorship, submitting petitions with tens of thousands of signatures.

Campaigners for the #FreeBritney movement regularly demonstrate outside court hearings.

A number of celebrities have also expressed support for the campaign, including Paris Hilton, Bette Midler and Miley Cyrus.

What has Britney Spears said about all this?

For years, the singer herself never commented on the #FreeBritney or conservatorship battle directly - with her online persona tending to be upbeat and unrelated to the headlines surrounding her case.

Some supporters believed she used social media to send secret messages. They pointed to instances where she appeared to have responded to comments asking her to do things like wear a yellow outfit in her next post if she needed help.

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But earlier this year a lawyer for the singer requested a hearing where she could address "the court directly" about her conservatorship.

In the much-anticipated hearing in a Los Angeles courtroom on 23 June, the star asked the judge to end the "abusive" conservatorship so she could get married and have more children.

"I want to end this conservatorship without being evaluated," Spears told the court in an emotional 20-minute address.

Spears condemned the arrangement, saying it forced her to use birth control to prevent her getting pregnant.

"This conservatorship is doing me way more harm than good," she said, speaking remotely. "I deserve to have a life."

The judge said her lawyer could file a formal petition to end the conservatorship.

Following Spears's testimony, her father's lawyer said he is "sorry to see his daughter suffering and in so much pain".

On 14 July, Spears addressed the court for a second time, suggesting that she was prepared to "press charges" against her father.

"I have to get rid of my dad and charge him with conservatorship abuse," she said.

Conservatorship abuse can involve financially exploiting or imposing excessive personal restrictions on someone in your care.

At the hearing, the judge ruled that Spears could appoint a lawyer of her own choice to take charge of the complex legal battle, replacing the court-appointed lawyer who had been representing her since 2008.

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