Explainer: Conservatorships and How Britney Spears Was Freed

A judge has freed Britney Spears from the conservatorship that controlled her life and money for nearly 14 years.

Here’s a look at how conservatorships operate, what’s unusual about hers, and how calls from her and her fans to #FreeBritney eventually worked.

How do conservatorships work?

When a person is considered to have a severely diminished mental capacity, a court can step in and grant someone the power to make financial decisions and major life choices for them.

California law says a conservatorship, called a guardianship in some states, is justified for a “person who is unable to provide properly for his or her personal needs for physical health, food, clothing, or shelter,” or for someone who is “substantially unable to manage his or her own financial resources or resist fraud or undue influence.”

The conservator, as the appointee put in charge is called, may be a family member, a close friend or a court-appointed professional.

Several states have recently used the attention that Spears has brought to the issue to reform their conservatorship laws. 

How does Spears’ work?

With a fortune of nearly $60 million comes secrecy, and the court closely guarded the inner workings of Spears’ conservatorship.

Some aspects have been revealed in documents. The conservatorship had the power to restrict her visitors. It arranged and oversaw visits with her two teenage sons, whose father has full custody. It took out restraining orders in her name to keep away interlopers deemed shady. 

It had the power to make her medical decisions and her business deals. She said at a June hearing that she has been compelled to take medication against her will, has been kept from having an intrauterine device for birth control removed and has been required to undertake performances when she didn’t want to.

Spears also said she had been denied the right to get married or have another child, but she has since gotten engaged to longtime boyfriend Sam Asghari.

Who had power over Spears?

The ultimate power in the conservatorship fell to Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny. She used it on Friday to end it.

Before his suspension in September, her father James Spears had the lion’s share of day-to-day power over his daughter’s choices for 13 years. In 2019, he gave up the role of conservator over her life decisions, maintaining control only over her finances. His replacement, John Zabel, now has a few minimal administrative powers to move Britney Spears’ money around as power over it transitions back to her.

Jodi Montgomery, a court-appointed professional, acted as conservator over her personal matters from 2019 until Friday. Her agreement was key when the termination finally came.

Why did so many called to #FreeBritney?

Some fans objected to the conservatorship soon after it began. But the movement, and the #FreeBritney hashtag, truly took hold early in 2019, when some believed she was being forced into a mental health hospital against her will. 

They pored over her social media posts to extract clues about her well-being and protested outside the courthouse at every hearing. 

They were long dismissed by Spears’ father and others as conspiracy theorists, but in the end their power was undeniable. 

They felt vindicated by two dramatic speeches she gave this summer, in which she confirmed many of their suspicions. They felt triumphant when her father was removed. And they felt truly jubilant when the conservatorship was terminated.

She was quick to give them credit, since first acknowledging in court filings in 2020 that they may have a point. “Good God I love my fans so much it’s crazy” she said on Twitter and Instagram after Friday’s ruling, along with video of the celebrations outside the courthouse and the new hashtag #FreedBritney. 

Why was it imposed in the first place?

In 2007 and 2008, shortly after she became a mother, she began to have very public mental struggles, with media outlets obsessed over each moment. Hordes of paparazzi aggressively followed her every time she left her house, and she no longer seemed able to handle it.

She attacked one cameraman’s car with an umbrella. She shaved her own head at a salon. She lost custody of her children. When she refused to turn over her boys after a visit, she was hospitalized and put on a psychiatric hold. The conservatorship was put in place within days.

Why did it go on so long?

A conservatorship can always be dissolved by the court. But it’s rare that a person achieves their own release from one, as Britney Spears essentially did.

They can last decades because the circumstances that lead to them, like traumatic brain injury, Alzheimer’s, or dementia, are not things people just bounce back from.

Spears’ father and his attorneys justified the continued conservatorship by arguing that she was especially susceptible to people who seek to take advantage of her money and fame.

Normally a series of mental evaluations would take place before a conservatorship ended, but on Friday Penny said that with no one asking for any examinations, none would be required.

How does Spears feel about all of this?

For years it was largely a mystery. But allowed to speak publicly in court in June, she called the conservatorship “abusive” and “stupid” and says it does her “way more harm than good.”

And in her social media posts on Friday, she declared, “Best day ever … praise the Lord.” 

What happens now?

Regaining her personal and financial powers after so many years will take some untangling. Montgomery, along with therapists and doctors, have created a care plan for the transition, and her attorney Mathew Rosengart says a financial safety net is in place too.

Rosengart has vowed to pursue an investigation of James’ Spears handling of the conservatorship even after it ends. He could take action in civil court, and has suggested he may even turn over his findings to law enforcement for consideration of criminal charges. James Spears has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. 

Britney Spears is likely to hire financial managers, assistants and attorneys to perform many of the same duties previously performed by the conservatorship. But their decisions will be subject to her approval, instead of vice-versa.

leave a comment