Britney Spears' legal battle with her father Jamie Spears over her 'conservatorship' has reached a crescendo after the singer appeared in court for the second time in less than a month, to deliver statements detailing her opposition to the complex legal arrangement.
Over the past year, the case has been in and out of court. On February 11, 2021, a judge declared that Jamie will no longer be the sole conservator of her finances and instead, he will retain 50% control. The most recent ruling, on July 14, permitted Britney to appoint her own lawyer for the first time, in her attempts to free herself of the conservatorship.
After years of the arrangement being shielded from the public, the ongoing legal case coincided with the release of a New York Times documentary examining the conservatorship, Britney's emergence as a teen pop sensation and the ruthless media scrutiny that the star was subject to in a pre #MeToo celebrity gossip industry.
Since Britney burst onto the music scene at 16-years-old with 'Hit Me Baby One More Time', Britney has been one of the most-watched, written about and discussed women of the past 30 years. Her highs and, more specifically her lows, including mental health battles, have been chronicled in detail and she has faced a barrage of harassment ever since.
As the legal row over her estate, income, career and social comings and goings has now escalated and a viral #FreeBritney social media campaign has been taking place in the background (with celebrities like Madonna, Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera supporting her), we've broken down the need-to-know details of the conservatorship.
What is the latest development in Britney Spears Conservatorship court case?
On July 15, Britney gave further testimony to the courts, during which she became emotional as she doubled down on her wishes to remove her father Jamie as a conservator and, calling for her dad to be charged with 'conservator abuse'.
'I'm here to press charges. I'm angry and I will go there,' Britney told the court over a telephone link, according to the BBC. 'You're allowing my dad to ruin my life. I have to get rid of my dad and charge him with conservatorship abuse.'
The 'Overprotected' singer added another allegation, saying she wasn't allowed her vitamins and coffee under the conservatorship, telling the Judge Brenda Penny: 'Ma'am, that's not abuse, that's just f***ing cruelty, excuse my language but it's the truth.'
According to the Guardian, Britney also claimed that under her father's control, her driving license was taken away from her for eight months. Britney also told the court she was 'extremely scared' of her father, who is a recovering alcoholic, saying she often feared throughout childhood that Jamie would 'show up drunk somewhere and embarrass me'.
Last week, Samuel Ingham - the court-appointed lawyer who has been acting on Britney's behalf - resigned. The Bessemer Trust, the wealth management firm jointly overseeing the conservatorship with Jamie, also withdrew following Britney's explosive testimony last month.
At court this week, the Judge granted Britney's request for her to appoint a lawyer of her choosing to represent her in further conservatorship hearings. This lawyer is entertainment attorney Mathew Rosengart, who according to The Guardian addressed the court immediately calling for Jamie to step down as conservator: 'There’s a real question as to why Mr Spears does not voluntarily step aside today. Today. Does anybody really believe that Mr Spears’s involvement in the case is in the best interest of Ms Spears If he loves his daughter, it is time to step aside, so she can move forward.'
In response, Jamie's lawyer Vivan Thoreen said her client 'has been there for his daughter 24-7' and that 'he loves his daughter and only wants the best for her.' Regarding Britney's accusations, she also reportedly said: 'Many of her characterisations or memories are just incorrect'.
Following the judge's granting that Britney could appoint her own lawyer, the star celebrated on Instagram sharing a video clip of her riding a horse and then cartwheeling outside, using the hashtag #FreeBritney for the first time.
'Coming along, folks ... coming along! New with real representation today ... I feel GRATITUDE and BLESSED !!!! Thank you to my fans who are supporting me ... You have no idea what it means to me be supported by such awesome fans !!!! ... #FreeBritney'
On June 30, a judge denied Britney's request for her father, Jamie to be removed as her conservator.
According to the BBC, the denial was in direct response to Britney asking the courts for her father to be removed back in November (which you can read more about below). It is not a response to the headline hitting testimony the pop star delivered to a court last week, in which she claimed aspects of her life, from her career to her reproductive choices, were out of her control. In order for the court to address that testimony, she would need to file a formal petition to fully terminate the conservatorship.
This decision means the February 2021 ruling - which after hearing both sides' arguments - where a judge upheld an earlier ruling that Jamie cannot control all of his daughter's finances any more, still stands. He will retain 50% of Britney's conservatorship while the other half will be the responsibility of financial services company Bessemer Trust, who Britney nominated to take control of her finances last August (though they have since exited the arrangement).
Britney is now believed to be estranged from her father, according to the New York Times. In an earlier court hearing in November, Britney claimed she was 'afraid' of her father and that she will not perform while he maintains control over her finances. According to the BBC, following the ruling, Britney's lawyer said it was 'no secret' she didn't want her father to be a co-conservator, but she understood that removing him altogether was a 'separate issue'. Lawyers for Jamie also issued a statement after the hearing, saying: 'My client looks forward to working with Bessemer to continue an investment strategy in the best interests of his daughter.'
Confidential records reportedly obtained by The New York Times reveal that the 39-year-old expressed 'serious opposition to the conservatorship earlier and more often than had previously been known' and that it has 'restricted everything from whom she dated to the colour 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. According to the investigator’s account of the conversation, Spears said the system had 'too much control'.
'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,' the investigator wrote, according to the NYT.
The publication reports that in a hearing closed to the public in 2014 the singer's court-appointed lawyer, Samuel D. Ingham III, stated that she wanted to explore removing her father as conservator, citing his drinking, 'among other objections on a “shopping list” of grievances'.
At a hearing on Tuesday, April 27, the Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny reportedly scheduled a new hearing that would allow the singer to speak on the 'status of the conservatorship'.
What has Britney Spears said about her conservatorship?
The star delivered her first public testimony in a court hearing about her conservatorship on Wednesday, June 23.
During a 20-minute call with Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny via video link, Britney likened that legal arrangement that she us under, to 'sex trafficking' and claims that she is prevented from seeking the removal of her birth control without the permission of her ‘team’.
‘I was told right now in the conservatorship, I’m not able to get married or have a baby. I have a IUD inside of myself right now so I don’t get pregnant,’ the singer said.
‘I wanted to take the IUD out so I could start trying to have another 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,' she noted.
‘I deserve to have the same rights as anybody does by having a child, a family, any of those things.'
Britney is currently in a relationship with fitness trainer Sam Asghari and has two children, Sean and Jayden, from her marriage to ex husband Kevin Federline.
During her testimony Britney also accused her father of controlling her ‘100,000%’ and claimed she was put on the psychiatric drug lithium - a mood stabiliser commonly used to treat disorders such as bipolar, mania and depression - against her wishes.
‘I told [my therapist] I was scared and my doctor had me on six different nurses with this new medication come to my home, stay with me to monitor me on this new medication, which I never wanted to be on to begin with,’ she recalled of the time she was put on the drug in 2008.
‘There were six different nurses in my home and they wouldn’t let me get in my car to go anywhere for a month.’
She added: ‘Not only did my family not do a goddamn thing, my dad was all for it. Anything that happened to me had to be approved by my dad.’
At another point in her testimony she said: ‘I worked seven days a week, no days off, which in California, the only similar thing to this is called sex trafficking.'
On her current mental state Britney noted that despite telling the world ‘I’m okay, and I’m happy’, it’s ‘a lie’.
‘I’ve been in shock. I am traumatised,' she revealed. '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.'
At the end of the testimony, which you can read in full here, Judge Penny thanked Spears for her ‘courage' but made no ruling.
Jamie Spears temporarily stepped down as the singer’s personal conservator in 2019 due to health reasons. The singer is requesting that Jodi Montgomery, a care professional, permanently takes up her conservatorship instead of reinstating her father.
In response to the singer’s testimony, Jamie Spears’ lawyers said in a statement read out in court: ‘He is sorry to see his daughter suffering and in so much pain. Mr Spears loves his daughter, and he misses her very much.’
Asghari showed his support for his partner during the hearing by sharing a selfie on Instagram. In the photo the trainer wears a T-shirt emblazoned with the words 'Free Britney', which refers to the #FreeBritney movement started by her fans as Spears continues to fight her conservatorship case.
What has Jamie Spears said about the conservatorship?
The singer's estranged father has reportedly refuted his daughter's allegations that he has hindered her freedom, rather placing blame on the star's current personal conservator Montgomery.
On June 30, TMZ reported the 69-year-old has filed court documents in which he claims he's not had any involvement in his daughter's personal conservatorship - which relates to personal decisions made on behalf of the singer - for almost two years.
The father-of-two also claims he's also had no communication with his eldest daughter because 'he has been cut off' from speaking to her.
According to the singer's father, when the 'Lucky' singer filed documents to appoint Montgomery in 2014 as temporary conservator, he claimed at the time that his child didn't have the mental capacity to make decisions relating to her medical treatment. As a result, he claims the responsibility to decide on mental treatment fell on Montgomery.
'Ms. Montgomery has been fully in charge of Ms. Spears' day-to-day personal care and medical treatment, and Ms. Montgomery has made all decisions related to those matters,' reportedly reads Britney's father's claims in the legal documents.
The star's father also claims that he consented to his daughter's marriage when she got engaged to her ex Jason Trawick, before their split in 2013, which comes after the singer's suggestion that she's unable to get married under the current conservatorship.
In another court document, Britney's father's legal representative states: 'Mr. Spears believes it is important for the integrity of the conservatorship proceedings and in the best interests of Ms. Spears for the Court to order an investigation into the issues and claims raised by [Britney] at the June 23, 2021 status hearing.
'Either the allegations will be shown to be true, in which case corrective action must be taken, or they will be shown to be false, in which case the conservatorship can continue its course.
'It is not acceptable for Conservators or the Court to do nothing in response to Ms. Spears' testimony.'
Following Jamie's statement, Montgomery refuted the claims through a statement issued by her lawyer, according to People:
'Practically speaking, since everything costs money, no expenditures can happen without going through Mr. Spears and Mr. Spears approving them. Ms. Montgomery has advocated on Britney's behalf for any expenditures that Britney has requested as well as for expenditures recommended by Britney's medical team. Not every requested expenditure has been approved. Jamie Spears, as conservator of the estate, has a duty to make decisions in the best interests of the estate, and sometimes that has meant requested expenditures have been denied or limited.'
What is a conservatorship?
For more than 10 years, Britney's father Jamie Spears has been legally responsible for these areas of his daughter's life under a court order labelled a 'conservatorship'.
According to Cornell Law school, a conservatorship is a 'legal arrangement that gives an adult the court-ordered authority and responsibility to manage another adult's financial affairs. The conservator is a court-appointed guardian who becomes responsible for the 'financial and daily life affairs' of someone who is unable to make these decisions themselves, usually because of health conditions including a breakdown in mental health. The term 'conservatorship' is specific to certain states, including California which has jurisdiction over Britney's case.
In the UK, conservatorship is similar to a guardianship under the Mental Capacity Act - where someone can become appointed to make decisions over a person's treatment, living situation and day-to-day finances, should the person become unable to make these decisions themselves for health reasons. There is also an option to put someone in the position of Lasting Power of Attorney, where they can have the lifelong responsibility to make financial, property and medical decisions for the person.
Why does Britney Spears' dad Jamie Spears have conservatorship?
Fans of the 'Lucky' singer will remember that distressing time all too well. Hounded by the paparazzi, Britney's mental health deteriorated in front of fans' eyes while she was also involved in a messy custody battle and divorce with ex-husband Kevin Federline. Invasive pictures of the former teen wonder shaving her head and brandishing an umbrella at a paparazzo's car were published across the world. A devoted fan of Britney, Chris Crocker, was one of the first YouTubers to go viral when he pleaded with the world to 'leave Britney alone'.
According to a 2016 New York Times report, as conservator, Jamie has overseen career decisions including negotiations for TV roles, he also tracks purchases in order to protect her fortune, is involved in the custody arrangement for her children and medical decisions too like what pharmaceutical drugs she takes.
There was at one time also a co-conservator: a lawyer named Andrew Wallet, however he resigned from the conservatorship last year.
What is Britney Spears doing now?
Britney has had a long road to recovery and, as her fans and followers have witnessed, she has largely managed to get her life back on track since 2008. She has released more music, embarked on several tours, held a Las Vegas residency and even had a stint as a judge on the US version of The X Factor.
Following the release of Framing Britney Spears, the 39-year-old seemingly addressed the renewed attention on her life and the legal case and the widespread concern for her welfare, producing a statement on social media in the following days which assured her fans she was ok.
With the conservatorship now up for extension, according to The Blast, an August 2020 legal document reads: 'Britney is strongly opposed to having James return as conservator of her person. Rather, she strongly prefers to have Ms. Montgomery continue in that role as she has done for nearly a year... We are now at a point where the conservatorship must be changed substantially in order to reflect the major changes in her current lifestyle and her stated wishes.'
The legal documents do not criticise the conservatorship, in general, with Britney's lawyer recognising that when Jamie was first appointed, 'her conservators rescued her from a collapse, exploitation by predatory individuals and financial ruin.'
What is #FreeBritney and who supports it?
Since 2009, there has been a steady movement growing on social media with fans pleading for Britney to be 'freed' from the allegedly overbearing shackles of the conservatorship.
Though she herself has rarely discussed the conservatorship, the singer - who is now mostly seen dancing in Instagram videos (even shouting out ex-boyfriend Justin Timberlake in one viral clip) - has reassured fans she is doing ok.
It is also worth pointing out that Jamie himself insists the #FreeBritney social media campaign is founded on conspiracy and rumour, labelling it a 'joke.'
On August 19, 2020 when the first hearing was held (with the ruling remaining unchanged until this recent decision), fans gathered outside of the Los Angeles courthouse holding up 'Free Britney' placards, wearing t-shirts adorned with her face and rallying further support through speakerphones.
According to The Mirror, also spotted outside the court was Britney's ex-husband and childhood friend Jason Alexander who she famously married for 55 hours in a Las Vegas chapel before getting it swiftly annulled in 2004.
On February 11, supporters were outside the courthouse once again and also staged a rally in Miami, Florida.
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