Britney Spears' Conservatorship Battle, Explained: How It Came to Be and Why She Finally Spoke Out
By Desiree Murphy
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It's been 13 years since Britney Spears has been under a conservatorship, but her battle for freedom is far from over.
The 39-year-old singer appeared remotely before a judge on June 23 to address the court directly, requesting to terminate the conservatorship without being evaluated. This marked the first time in years that Britney spoke in court about the conservatorship, which has been extended until September 2021.
ET's breaking down everything you need to know about Britney's legal battle, including what a conservatorship is, what's happened in the case so far and why the beloved pop star felt now was the right time to finally speak out.
WHAT IS A LEGAL CONSERVATORSHIP?
According to the Judicial Branch of California, a conservatorship is a court case where a judge appoints a responsible person or organization (called the "conservator") to care for another adult (called the "conservatee") who cannot care for him/herself or manage his/her own finances.
WHY IS BRITNEY IN A CONSERVATORSHIP?
In February 2008, Britney's father, Jamie Spears, filed legal documents asking the court to grant him temporary conservatorship of the singer.
At the time of the filing, Britney was being held at the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles on a psychiatric hold. It was the second time that year that Britney had been placed on a 5150 hold, which allows a person (as a result of a mental health disorder, being a danger to others or themselves, etc.) to be involuntarily detained for a 72-hour assessment, evaluation and crisis intervention.
The court documents stated at the time that the "proposed conservatee" (Britney) was "unable to properly provide for his or her personal needs for physical health, food, clothing or shelter." The judge granted Jamie temporary conservatorship.
In October of that year, Jamie petitioned the court to make him permanent co-conservator over Britney. The court approved the petition, making Jamie and lawyer Andrew Wallet co-conservators. Jamie and Andrew filed their first accounting documents in March 2009, in which it was noted they were getting payment for themselves -- and having their legal fees paid -- under the conservatorship.
IS BRITNEY STILL UNDER THE SAME CONSTRAINTS?
Yes, the conservatorship is still in place, but changes have been made in recent years by Britney and her legal team.
In April 2019, Andrew resigned from the conservatorship, leaving Jamie as the sole conservator of her person/estate. One month later, Britney's mother, Lynne Spears, asked the court to give her access to Britney’s medical records.
ET reported in September 2019 that Jamie would no longer serve as Britney's sole conservator. A judge appointed Jodi Montgomery as Britney's temporary conservator (of her person), while Jamie remained conservator of the estate.
In August 2020, new court documents revealed that Britney expressed through her attorney that she had no desire to perform at the time, and was opposed to having her father return as conservator (of her/the person). Through her legal team, Britney requested that her temporary conservator, Jodi, be made permanent, and nominated Bessemer Trust Company to serve as conservator of the estate in some capacity.
Britney also filed documents in October 2020 to add more attorneys to her legal team from Loeb & Loeb LLP, and was approved. Previously, she had only one court-appointed attorney on her team, Samuel Ingham.
HAS JAMIE PUBLICLY ADDRESSED RECENT CHANGES TO THE CONSERVATORSHIP?
"I love my daughter and I miss her very much," he said at the time. "When a family member needs special care and protection, families need to step up, as I have done for the last 12-plus years, to safeguard, protect and continue to love Britney unconditionally. I have and will continue to provide unwavering love and fierce protection against those with self-serving interests and those who seek to harm her or my family."
Then, in another CNN interview that aired in March, Jamie's lawyer, Vivian Lee Thoreen, claimed that Jamie "would love nothing more than to see Britney not need a conservatorship. Whether or not there is an end to the conservatorship really depends on Britney. If she wants to end her conservatorship, she can file a petition to end it."
"Jamie is not suggesting that he is the perfect dad or that he would receive any 'Father of the Year' award," the attorney added. "Like any parent, he doesn't always see eye-to-eye on what Britney may want. But Jamie believes every single decision he has made has been in her best interest."
The interview came one month after Vivian defended her client in an interview with Good Morning America, saying, "I understand that every story needs a villain ... Jamie serves as Britney's conservator because he loves her. He wants the best for Britney."
"People have it so wrong here. This is a story about a fiercely loving, dedicated and loyal father who rescued his daughter from a life-threatening situation," she alleged. "People were harming her and they were exploiting her. Jamie saved Britney's life. ... Britney's assets were clearly being mismanaged and she was being taken advantage of financially by some of those around her."
WHAT IS THE #FREEBRITNEY MOVEMENT?
The viral hashtag was created by fans and is still used today by people who claim that Britney is being held against her will, and is trying to call for help through her social media posts. The movement has even sparked #FreeBritney rallies in Los Angeles, with Britney's ex-husband, Jason Alexander, spotted at one in August 2020.
#FreeBritney gained momentum in April 2019 after Britney checked herself into a health facility to allegedly deal with the stress she was having over her father's health crisis. The check-in came just a few weeks after Britney put her career on an indefinite hiatus, postponing her album and putting her Britney: Domination show at Park Theater at the Park MGM resort in Las Vegas on hold before it even began.
"I am dedicating my focus and energy to care for my family. We have a very special relationship and I want to be with my family at this time just like they have always been there for me," Britney said in a statement at the time. "Thank you to all my fans for your continued love and support during this time. I apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused and I look forward to the time when I can be back on stage performing for all of you."
The hashtag went viral again in February following the release of The New York Times Presents: Framing Britney Spears. The unauthorized documentary examined everything from Britney's rise to fame to her portrayal in the media, along with her ongoing conservatorship battle.
It also featured an emotional clip from MTV's Britney: For the Record. In the documentary TV film, which originally premiered in 2008, Britney teared up while talking about how she would feel "so liberated" without any legal constraints.
"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. Like, if that wasn't there, I would feel so liberated and feel like myself," she said at the time. "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 really listening to what I'm telling them."
"It’s like... it's bad," she added, as tears filled her eyes. "I'm sad."
Earlier this month, The New York Times also reported that they obtained confidential court records that revealed Britney has quietly been pushing for years to end her conservatorship. According to the outlet, Britney expressed "serious opposition to the conservatorship earlier and more often than had previously been known" in the court records, and claimed that it restricted everything from "whom she dated to the color of her kitchen cabinets."
"She articulated she feels the conservatorship has become an oppressive and controlling tool against her," a court investigator wrote in a 2016 report, per the NYT, adding that Britney informed them that she wanted the conservatorship terminated as soon as possible. "She is 'sick of being taken advantage of' and she said she is the one working and earning her money but everyone around her is on her payroll."
HOW HAVE BRITNEY'S FAMILY AND FRIENDS SHOWN SUPPORT?
Paris Hilton has been a longtime friend of the singer and supporter of the #FreeBritney movement. "I love her," Paris said of Britney, while speaking to ET earlier this year. "I was actually texting her last week, and she's just so sweet and down to earth and really an amazing woman. I'm so proud of her."
Tinashe, who teamed up with Britney for 2016's "Slumber Party," also supported the pop star in her own interview with ET in June. "What I've realized through time is she's a genuine, genuine person," Tinashe exclaimed. "I think that that is part of her legacy that's really beautiful, is how genuine she is. I just want to see her continue to win and thrive, and do whatever she wants to do."
As for Britney's family, an attorney for her ex-husband, Kevin Federline, told ET in February that his client doesn't know if there's still a need for the conservatorship to be in place. Britney and Kevin were married from 2004 to 2007 and share two kids together -- sons Jayden James, 14, and Sean Preston, 15.
"[Kevin] of course feels that it's always an extra layer of security to maintain structure and stability in anyone's home where there’s a third party there, whose job it is to see that everything is organized and orderly," attorney Mark Vincent Kaplan said. "[Kevin] thinks Jodi Montgomery has done an admirable job and he has no other position to state with regard to the conservatorship. Kevin's main concern is that his boys are always safe and their best interests are maintained."
(Kevin previously filed a police report in 2019 alleging that Jamie physically abused Sean Preston. A restraining order was granted at the time that prohibited Jamie from seeing his grandsons.)
Britney's current boyfriend, Sam Asghari, also slammed the singer's father in a post shared to Instagram Stories in February. "Now it's important for people to understand that I have zero respect for someone trying to control our relationship and constantly throwing obstacles in our way," Sam, who's originally from Tehran, Iran, wrote. "In my opinion Jamie is a total d**k. I won't be going into detail because I've always respected our privacy but at the same time I didn't come to this country to not be able to express my opinion and freedom."
A source told ET earlier this year that Sam wants Britney to "finally be free of the conservatorship," adding that he's "one of the few people who doesn't need a chaperone to be around her."
The singer's sister, Jamie Lynn Spears, has previously asked that the public "be kind" -- as "everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about" -- while Britney's brother, Bryan Spears, spoke similar sentiments during his appearance on the As NOT Seen On TV podcast last summer.
"[Britney] has always wanted to get out of [the conservatorship]," he said. "It's very frustrating to have. Whether someone's coming in peace to help or coming in with an attitude, having someone constantly tell you to do something has got to be frustrating."
The law firm Holland & Knight, which represents Jamie, has since asked the court to overrule the objection filed by Lynne. Per the legal docs obtained by ET, the law firm asserts that Lynne's objections are without merit and claims she is "not acting in the best interests of her daughter."
WHY WAS NOW THE RIGHT TIME FOR BRITNEY TO SPEAK OUT?
According to court documents, Britney's father has previously argued with the singer's attorney, Samuel Ingham, over whether his daughter has the capacity to speak directly in court. However, during a hearing in April, Samuel shared that Britney "requested" that he "seek from the court a status hearing where she can address the court directly."
The hearing came just a few weeks after Britney assured her fans via Instagram that she was doing well. "Yes, I'm totally fine. I'm extremely happy, I have a beautiful home, beautiful children," she said in a Q&A video filmed at her home. "I'm taking a break right now because I'm enjoying myself."
Over the past few months, it appears Britney has also become more vocal about issues regarding her personal life publicly. On her Instagram, for example, she's addressed everything from the "hypocritical" documentaries being made about her life (Framing Britney Spears and BBC's The Battle for Britney: Fans, Cash and a Conservatorship) to the "empathetic and concerned" fans showing her support.
"Britney has considered speaking out about her past, mostly because she doesn't feel others should tell her story," a source told ET earlier this year, ahead of her latest hearing. "At this point, there is no plan in the works for her to do an interview, but when she does, there will be steps Britney would need to take before speaking out."
WHAT DID BRITNEY SAY IN COURT?
During the June 23 hearing, Britney recounted her experience with the conservatorship in a testimony that lasted for over 20 minutes. "Ma'am, I'm not here to be anyone's slave," Britney told the judge, adding that while she was still performing, "I wasn't good, I was great."
Britney's biggest request to the court was "to end the conservatorship without having to be evaluated." She also requested to see a therapist at her home, as she called having to publicly attend sessions under the eye of paparazzi "embarrassing and demoralizing."
"I'm so angry, I can't sleep, and I am depressed," she said of her current state. "I want to be heard ... I want changes and I want changes going forward. I deserve changes."
"I just want my life back. It's been 13 years and it's enough. It's enough and it makes no sense at all ... I'm done," she said, accusing her father and those involved in her conservatorship of "criminal" behavior. "I want to sue my family to be totally honest with you."
Britney claimed that around the time her 2018 tour wrapped, there was a minor disagreement in rehearsals over a dance move that resulted in her being put on lithium. She claims her father then sent her to rehab against her will.
"I cried on the phone for an hour and he loved every minute of it. The control he had over someone as powerful as me, he loved the control to hurt his own daughter. 100,000%, he loved it," she claimed, alleging she had no privacy at the facility and was forced to give "eight gallons of blood a week."
"Two years later, after I've lied and told the whole world I'm OK, I'm happy; it's a lie," she said. "I've been in denial. I've been in shock. I am traumatized. You know, fake it till you make it, but now I'm telling you the truth, OK. I'm not happy. I can't sleep. I'm so angry, it's insane and I'm depressed. I cry every day."
Additionally, Britney also shared with the court that she wants to get married and have another baby, but claims she's unable to do so under the conservatorship. "I was told right now, in the conservatorship, I'm not able to get married or have a baby. I have an IUD [intrauterine device] inside of myself right now so I don't get pregnant," she said. "I wanted to take the IUD out, so I can start trying to have a baby. But this so-called team won't let me go to the doctor to take it out, because they don't want me to have children, any more children."
"So, basically, this conservatorship is doing me way more harm than good. I deserve to have a life. I worked my whole life, and I deserve to have a two, three-year break and just do what I want to do," she added. "I wish I could stay with you on the phone forever, because when I get off the phone with you, all of a sudden all I hear are no's. 'No, no, no.'"
After a brief recess, Jamie's attorney relayed a statement on his behalf, "He is sorry to see his daughter suffering and in so much pain. Mr. Spears loves his daughter and misses her very much."