Britney Spears’ career has spanned nearly three decades. Yet, despite being one of the biggest names in music, she doesn't have control over key elements of her life - such as her estimated $60 million estate or her personal affairs including medical, financial and professional decisions.
Since her breakdown in 2007-2008, the 39-year-old has been held in a conservatorship. Originally a short-term order, it has been extended several times. A conservator - for Britney, this has mostly been her father Jamie Spears - is someone who looks after elements of another individual’s life when they are deemed unfit to.
Many of her fans aren't happy about the conservatorship and are concerned it is now continuing against her will. The #FreeBritney online campaign was born in 2009 and has been “fighting” for Britney to regain control since then.
Britney herself has been fighting a legal battle over her conservatorship for at least two years.
The saga was rumbling on quietly for most of us, but was catapulted back in to international headlines in February following the release of New York Times’ documentary Framing Britney Spears. The film looked at the star’s rise to fame and her conservatorship battle.
Lawyers working for Britney are now in and out of court fighting the conservatorship as the story continues.
Here’s what you need to know.
What is a conservatorship and how has this impacted Britney?
The US law is a form of legal guardianship of an adult, and it is typically put in place for those unable to make their own life decisions. For example, it’s often used by those with family members suffering from dementia. In Britney’s case, it was implemented in 2008 after she suffered a public mental breakdown. It means her conservator has control of:
Other important life decisions (i.e. career)
The conservator also has the authority to revoke power of attorney on her behalf, decide where she lives, and sign her tax forms.
What is #FreeBritney?
Website FreeBritney.net was first launched in 2009 shortly after the conservatorship was instated. Backers of the movement regularly update blogs, campaign on social media and attend court meetings. Many appeared in the documentary, Framing Britney Spears.
After a few relatively dormant years, the group picked up pace again in 2019 after Britney entered a psychiatric facility as many of the group believed she was admitted against her will. Then, when the singer posted several unusual TikTok dance videos shortly after, members interpreted it as Britney sending a message that she was being held hostage in her home.
The clips renewed public interest in her life, and a Change.org petition was launched calling a lawyer to help her conservatorship battle. It gained over 200,000 signatures.
The petition reads: “Since 2008 Britney Spears has been held in a conservatorship, this gives her conservator (Jamie Spears) full control over her life, body and finances/estate. Conservatorships are typically used for SEVERELY mentally ill individuals or people in comas.”
Those close to Britney insist #FreeBritney doesn’t understand the nuances of the order. They say the conservatorship is in place for her wellbeing.
“The conservatorship is not a jail,” Larry Rudolph, Britney’s manager, told The Washington Post. “It helps Britney make business decisions and manage her life in ways she can’t do on her own right now.”
What has Britney’s father said?
Britney’s father, Jamie, has been serving as her conservator since the arrangement was enacted in 2008. He briefly stepped down because of health reasons in 2019, and Britney’s care manager, a woman named Jodi Montgomery, stepped up before he resumed his duties after a year.
In the days leading up a hearing in August 2020 held to extend the conservatorship, Jamie responded to the #FreeBritney supporters while speaking to Page Six. “All these conspiracy theorists don’t know anything. The world don’t have a clue,” he said. “It’s up to the court of California to decide what’s best for my daughter. It’s no one else’s business.”
Jamie also addressed allegations that he was stealing from his daughter’s estate. “I have to report every nickel and dime spent to the court every year,” he said, adding, “How the hell would I steal something?”
However, documents filed by Britney’s court-appointed lawyer stated that she “is strongly opposed” to her father remaining as her conservator.
Instead, the documents noted that Britney wished to have Montgomery return as her full conservator, with the option to end the arrangement in the future.
“Without in any way waiving her right to seek termination of this conservatorship in the future, Britney would like Ms. Montgomery’s appointment as conservator of her person to be made permanent,” the document said.
How is Britney Spears' mother involved?
Lynne Spears is not as involved as her ex-husband Jamie - but has made attempts to be kept more in the loop.
On July 14, 2020 ET Online reported that Britney's mother filed a request with the Los Angeles County Court to receive special notice on "all matters" of Britney's SJB Revocable Trust. The SJB Revocable Trust was established in 2004 to protect the singer’s assets and secure a future for her two sons.
It was also set up to "hold and manage her material financial assets during her lifetime, and provide distribution of those assets upon her death," according to The Blast.
Lynne also requested special notice on Britney's conservatorship in 2019. "Britney's mother has always wanted to have a position in Britney's conservatorship," a source told ET. "Her mom has tried at different points over the years to have some sort of say."
Have any other family members spoken out?
On July 21, 2020 Jamie Lynn - Britney’s sister - posted a screenshot of a tweet made by Halsey regarding mental health. The post came following Kim Kardashian’s statements about Kanye West’s public struggle with bipolar disorder (though neither Halsey nor Jamie Lynn specifically referenced West).
In the since-deleted Instagram post, Jamie Lynn wrote, “If you deal with mental illness or care for someone dealing with mental illness, then you know how important it is to respect the situation with privacy for the person, and the family trying to protect their loved ones, no matter how it may appear to the public, and as the public we must learn to do the same.”
She also responded to an Instagram user who commented that Jamie Lynn should be speaking out about her sister’s mental health.
“You have no right to assume anything about my sister, and I have NO right to speak about HER health and personal matters,” Jamie Lynn reportedly responded. “She is a strong, bada**, unstoppable woman, and that’s the only thing that is OBVIOUS.”
Britney’s older brother, Bryan, also spoke about the conservatorship. On a July 23 appearance on the As Not Seen on TV podcast, Bryan defended the family’s 2008 decision. “It’s been a great thing for our family to this point,” he said.
Bryan acknowledged that the conservatorship was “hard” for Britney in the beginning, and that the family hadn’t initially agreed on how to best help her. “How it proceeds from here, I don’t know,” he said, clarifying that “at the time,” he felt it was the right choice.
“She’s always wanted to get out of it,” Bryan said of how Britney felt about the conservatorship. “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,” he explained.
What‘s the latest?
In August 2020, the pop star said she was “strongly opposed” to her father returning as the sole conservator after his leave of absence. She later said she wanted Jodi Montgomoery to take over.
In November 10, 2020, a judge denied Britney's request to move her father completely from the conservatorship but did appoint Bessemer Trust, a third party corporate fiduciary, as co-conservator of Britney’s estate and said she was open to future petitions for Jamie's suspension or removal.
On February 11, 2021, a judge overruled Jamie’s objections to being a co-conservator and his bid to retain control of delegating her investments was denied.
Britney's lawyer reiterated that the singer doesn't want her father to be a co-conservator but agreed that the issue will be revisited at a later date.
How important is Jodi Montgomery?
After that, Britney made steps to make Montgomery her permanent conservator. A court petition dated Monday, March 22, 2021 shows Britney’s legal team has requested Jodi serve as permanent conservator of Britney’s person. The petition, which has been seen by E!News, asked that Jamie resign as conservator of her person. Jamie would remain as co-conservator of Britney’s estate.
The petition also requests that Britney retains the right to call for the termination of the conservatorship as a whole.
You’ll remember Jodi previously stepped in to temporarily replace the star’s father as conservator in September 2019 due to Jamie’s ill-health.
What has Britney said about the New York Times documentary?
On March 31, Britney directly addressed the documentary via Instagram.
Posting a video of her dancing to Aerosmith track Crazy, the singer said she was “embarrassed” at how she was portrayed in the documentary - adding she cried for two weeks following its release.
She wrote in a caption: “I didn’t watch the documentary but from what I did see of it I was embarrassed by the light they put me in ... I cried for two weeks and well .... I still cry sometimes.”
Britney also addressed how it felt living under media scrutiny. She wrote: “My life has always been very speculated … watched ... and judged really my whole life !!! [...]
“I have been exposed my whole life performing in front of people !!! It takes a lot of strength to TRUST the universe with your real vulnerability cause I’ve always been so judged... insulted... and embarrassed by the media... and I still am till this day !!!!
“As the world keeps on turning and life goes on we still remain so fragile and sensitive as people.”
Prior to the post, the singer had not directly addressed the documentary - but posted a video of her dancing to hit Toxic with the caption: “Each person has their story and their take on other people’s stories !!!!”
When will Britney appear in court?
Britney is set to address a US court over the conservatorship. The pop star’s current lawyer, Samuel D Ingham, said she wants to address the court directly. Judge Brenda Penny, sitting at Los Angeles Superior Court, set a status hearing for June 23. It is not clear if she will appear in person or via video call.
Mr Ingham told the court his client’s wishes during a hearing on Tuesday April 28. There were also brief updates on other matters related to the case, and the judge set a separate date of July 14 for those to be heard.
There’s a new BBC documentary coming out...
Following Framing Britney Spears, the BBC announced its own hour-long documentary looking in to the topic. Titled The Battle for Britney: Fans, Cash and a Conservatorship, it will be released on BBC iPlayer on Saturday, May 1. It will air a few days later on BBC Two, going out at 9pm on Wednesday, May 5.
Mobeen Azhar fronts the show and travels to Los Angeles and Spears’ home state of Louisiana to meet some of the key players in the battle.