Over the past few weeks, the #FreeBritney movement has reappeared on social media following the release of the “Framing Britney Spears” documentary, which covered Britney Spears’ ongoing court battle with her father and management team regarding her conservatorship (Stark, 2021).
Wait, what is a conservatorship?
In the United States, a conservator is a court-appointed person that assists or handles the assets of “persons who have been determined to be fully or partially unable to manage their own finances”–typically, people with failing health or disability (Larson, 2018). Conservatorships can also be applied when there is no alternative arrangement or option in which the conservatee can safely protect their finances.
As outlined by lawyer Aaron Larson, the process of appointment generally involves 4 steps:
1. Filing A Petition: The person seeking to be the conservator will file a petition and bring supporting documents to court that supports the allegedly incapacitated person’s disability. The conservator is often a relative or a long-term care provider, who wants to ensure proper handling of the person’s assets.
2. Investigation of the Petition: A court-appointed person will meet with the conservatee to inform them of their legal rights, discuss the petition, and assess their overall situation and mental capacity. This person may also meet with relevant healthcare providers, relatives, and other caregivers of the conservatee. They will then report to the court whether they deem it necessary to proceed to a petition hearing.
3. Court Proceedings: A conservatorship will be appointed upon the consent and agreement of the conservatee and the court.
· If the conservatee does not consent, the petitioner must prove in court that “the legal standard for appointment of a conservatorship has been met.” The conservatee has the right to appear at the hearing with their legal representation.
· In the case where the conservatee is unable to respond, the court will hold a hearing with witnesses aiming to prove the need for a conservatorship.
4. Appointment of a Conservator: The conservator will receive legal documents authorizing their ability to manage the financial affairs of the conservatee.
Upon appointment, the conservator’s first steps will be to document and report the conservatee’s finances to the court before taking over management. Restrictions may include periodic reviews, annual reporting to court, and involvement of the conservatee in decisions, depending.
So how does this apply to Britney?
Back in 2007-2008, Britney Spears went through a mental breakdown due to a series of heavily publicized personal factors. You may remember this as the time when Britney made headlines for shaving her head or hitting a reporter’s car with an umbrella.
Following this, her father, Jamie Spears, became her conservator in 2008 and took over management of her person, finances, and estate. Jodi Montgomery stepped up as her temporary personal conservator in 2019 amidst Jamie’s own health issues; Britney has since lobbied for her to replace her father as her permanent conservator (Farrow and Tolentino, 2021).
Britney has continued to raise her family and generate income for herself through music, tours, her hit Las Vegas residency spanning four years, etc. Her father, meanwhile, has remained in significant control over her finances and estate for the past 13 years (Farrow and Tolentino, 2021).
During her testimony in court on June 23, 2021, she publicly expressed her wish to end her father’s conservatorship for the first time, citing years of abuse, isolation, and trauma. She describes cases of being prescribed medication against her consent; of overworking in fear of being cut-off from her finances; and having her reproductive rights restricted by her management team (Aswad, 2021).
While the conservatorship may have been necessary back in 2008, it has ultimately caused Britney more harm than good. Part of conservatorship law, though rarely exercised, involves the court’s periodic reassessment of less restrictive options if the existing ones are no longer necessary. For Britney, this ideally involves altering the financial powers of attorney (i.e., Conservator’s financial powers) or establishing a formal shared control of finances (Farrow and Tolentino, 2021). On July 6, 2021, Britney’s court appointed attorney, Samuel Ingham filed documents with the court to resign as Britney’s lawyer and allow her to hire her own attorney, a wish she made public on June 23 (Dalton, 2021).
Britney ends her powerful testimony by saying that she deserves to have her life back, to “have the same rights as anybody does, by having a child, a family, any of those things, and more so” (Aswad, 2021).
Aswad, J. (2021, June 23). Read Britney Spears’ Full Statement Against Conservatorship: ‘I Am Traumatized.’ Variety. https://variety.com/2021/music/news/britney-spears-full-statement conservatorship-1235003940/
Chiu, R. (2021). [On Wednesday, Britney Spears asked to be freed of her
government mandated conservatorship. Her testimony supports the
allegations of abuse #FreeBritney supporters have been saying for years.]
[Photograph] KCRW. https://www.kcrw.com/news/shows/kcrw
Dalton, Andrew. (2021, July 6). Britney Spears’ court-appointed attorney resigns
from conservatorship. The Associated Press. Global News.
Farrow, R., & Tolentino, J. (2021, July 3). Britney Spears’s Conservatorship
Nightmare. The New Yorker. https://www.newyorker.com/news/american
Larson, A. (2018, May 7). What is a Conservatorship | ExpertLaw. ExpertLaw.
Sonar, H. (2020) [For The Swaddle] [Photograph] The Swaddle.
Stark, Samantha. (2021, February1). Framing Britney Spears. The New York Times