Britney Spears conservatorship case heads back to court
By Julia Jacobs
The legal battle over who should control Britney Spears’ finances and personal life is scheduled to return to the courtroom this week amid a renewed discussion of how she was treated during her meteoric rise as a teenage pop star and during her subsequent mental health struggles.
The issue resurfaced in recent days after “Framing Britney Spears,” a documentary by The New York Times, premiered Friday on FX and Hulu. The film centers on the conflict over Spears’ conservatorship, a legal arrangement that has allowed other people — primarily her father — to manage her career, personal life and finances since 2008.
In tracing the origins of the legal battle, the documentary tells a story of a gifted performer who for decades has been surrounded by people seeking to capitalize off her, and who was ultimately driven to desperation by an insidious celebrity culture and paparazzi who would not leave her alone.
The film also explores the #FreeBritney movement, a campaign by fans that seeks to portray the conservatorship as a money-hungry means to exert control over Spears.
Since the new documentary’s debut, these calls have multiplied, with several celebrities joining in and amplifying a movement that was once confined to a niche group of activists and superfans.
In posts on Instagram and Twitter on Tuesday, Spears appeared to comment indirectly on the documentary by sharing a performance of hers from a few years ago and writing, “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 every day life!!!!”
“Remember, no matter what we think we know about a person’s life,” she wrote, “it is nothing compared to the actual person living behind the lens.”
With a hearing scheduled Thursday in Los Angeles, here is a breakdown of the conservatorship controversy.
What is a conservatorship?
Sometimes known as a guardianship, a conservatorship is a complex legal arrangement typically reserved for the old, ill or infirm. A representative is designated to manage the person’s affairs and estate if that person is deemed to be unable to take care of themselves or vulnerable to outside influence or manipulation.
Spears has lived under a conservatorship since 2008, after a string of public meltdowns (which, the documentary notes, were aggressively captured by paparazzi who followed Spears nearly everywhere she went). For more than a decade, Spears’ father, James Spears, known as Jamie, has overseen much of his daughter’s financial and personal life as one of the conservators. The appointed conservators have control over everything from Spears’ mental health care to where and when she can travel; the setup means that Spears’ conservators are required to submit detailed accounts of her purchases to the court — even $5 purchases at Sonic Drive-In or Target.
Conservatorships are always portrayed as being for a person’s protection. Representatives for Jamie Spears have said that his stewardship over her career likely saved her from financial ruin. He said in court filings that his “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 Spears stepped back from his role as his daughter’s personal conservator in 2019, citing health problems; a professional conservator took his place temporarily. The current court battle revolves around control over Spears’ estate.
Where does the issue stand in court?
Last summer, the contours of the case changed drastically when Spears’ court-appointed lawyer, Samuel Ingham III, said in a court filing for the first time that his client “strongly opposed” her father as conservator. In requesting that Spears’ temporary personal conservator, Jodi Montgomery, a professional in the field, be made permanent, Ingham left open the possibility that Spears might one day seek to terminate the conservatorship fully.
“Without in any way waiving her right to seek termination of this conservatorship in the future,” Ingham wrote, “Britney would like Ms. Montgomery’s appointment as conservator of her person to be made permanent.”
In November, a judge declined to immediately remove Jamie Spears as head of his daughter’s estate; at the same time, the judge added a corporate fiduciary, Bessemer Trust, as co-conservator, as the singer requested.
In December, the judge extended Montgomery’s temporary role as personal conservator until September of this year.
The hearing in Los Angeles will likely include a discussion of the roles that Jamie Spears and Bessemer Trust will play in managing the estate. A lawyer for Jamie Spears did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
What does Britney Spears want?
What has become clear in recent months through her lawyer, according to court filings, is that Britney Spears no longer wants her father to serve as her conservator.
At a court hearing in November, the singer’s lawyer said that “she is afraid of her father,” whom she has not spoken to in a long time, and that she will not perform again if her father maintains control over her career, The Associated Press reported.
Her current boyfriend, Sam Asghari, came out earlier Tuesday with a blunt criticism of Jamie Spears, writing in an Instagram story that he has “zero respect for someone trying to control our relationship and constantly throwing obstacles in our way.”