A complete breakdown of Britney Spears, her conservatorship and the #FreeBritney movement
If you've heard Britney Spears speaking yesterday about how controlling her conservatorship is and why her father "belongs in jail", but don't really understand what has happened to her, read on.
You might have seen the #freeBritney hashtag roaming around Twitter and TikTok in the last few months, or perhaps you’ve seen a 175,000-strong petition circling to “free Britney”. Or maybe, by now, you’ve even watched the New York Times documentary, Framing Britney Spears that came out in March 2021.
But how exactly did all the furore kick-off? In order to completely breakdown the furore surrounding the pop star, we have to go back to the beginning, specifically to 2007.
In 2007, the mega pop star was going through a number of mental health issues. It’s hard to forget the freshly bald Britney brandishing an umbrella at paparazzi, or shots of her driving with a baby in her lap.
She was checked into psychiatric care twice during that year and in 2008 her father, Jamie Spears and lawyer Andrew Wallet petitioned to become her co-conservators. This is essentially like a legal guardianship, with her father taking over responsibility for her physical wellbeing and estate, while Wallet managed all of her finances.
According to the California Courts, a conservatorship is for “adults who cannot take care of themselves or their finances. These conservatees are often elderly people, but can also be younger people who have been seriously impaired, like in a car accident, for example.” In a conservatorship, which has no end date unless either the conservatee (in this case, Britney) or the conservator (her father) make an application to the courts.
A conservator has complete control over the conservatee’s finances, health, power of attorney, housing, food, and all financial assets. In Britney’s case, her conservators have full power of attorney, supervise her time with her children, control her housing and meals, her movement and security, oversight over her visitors, sign contracts for her, log all of her spending and she cannot drive.
The conservatorship is said to not only keep watch over and secure Britney’s fortune, it also keeps those who might wish to influence or use the singer in any way. Those close to the conservatorship say that in fact, it has enhanced Britney’s brand, for example, it was stipulated in her Vegas residency contract that the conservatorship remains in place for the length of the contract. They liked the security that the conservatorship brought.
However, while it might have been beneficial from a career perspective, not everything about the conservatorship is positive. The LA Times did an extensive investigation in the conservatorship and while they did not find any “independent evidence that Spears was being harmed by the arrangement,” the paper did find the arrangement “highly unusual”. Conservatorships are usually for the elderly, infirm and mentally disabled who are unable to take care of their own affairs or themselves.
However, Britney Spear has released four studio albums, was a full-time judge on The X-Factor and toured the world extensively during the conservatorship’s twelve years. She even starred in How I Met Your Mother one month after the conservatorship is granted. It doesn’t sound like someone so troubled that they are unable to care for themselves.
The #FreeBritney Movement
While there was concern for Britney and the control her father exercised over every detail of her life from the beginning of the arrangement, the #FreeBritney movement only gained real momentum in 2019.
In January of that year, Britney announced she was indefinitely postponing her Vegas residency after her father suffered a “health emergency”. Soon after, Wallet, who had been the co-conservator up until, suddenly resigned with immediate effect, giving no reasoning behind his withdrawal. The courts granted Jamie Spear complete control over her daughter’s, physical wellbeing, estate and finances.
A few months later, the star announced on social media that she needed some “me time”, just a few hours before TMZ claimed she checked herself into a mental health facility for a month-long stint.
However, some fans were sceptical of these explanations and Britney’s frequent assertations on social media that she’s fine and happy. A voice recording, reportedly by a former paralegal of one of the lawyers involved in the conservatorship, was left with a Britney fan podcast, Britney’s Gram. It claimed that during the rehearsal for her new Vegas residency, Britney refused to continue taking her medication and, as a result, her father pulled the show.
Here is some of the audio & transcript from the @BritneysGram podcast in which they play the voicemail they received from a former paralegal that worked on Britney Spears’ conservatorship. Please retweet. #FREEBRITNEY pic.twitter.com/qvZDRuK6vr
— Benjamin Salt (@benjaminsalt) April 18, 2019
The person also claimed that Britney had been checked into the mental health facility against her will and had been there since January, not since March as TMZ had reported.
The podcast hosts said that they did verify the caller’s identity and their position within the legal firm but otherwise, there’s been no way to substantiate the claims. The voicemail and the podcast sparked the beginning of the #FreeBritney movement, demanding that she be released from the conservatorship that dictates so much of her life.
It was also fueled by Britney’s abnormal social media activity. Her feed, normally filled with home videos and behind the scenes peeks into her life, went almost completely dark after the January announcement about the cancellation of her tour, and was not active again until her post about needing “me time” in March.
With all of this fervour surrounding the star, Lynne Spears, Britney’s mother, stirred things up even further by liking a series of social media posts in June 2019 that demanded Britney be released from the conservatorship.
Just before that, in May 2019, both Britney and her parents attended a court hearing status update on the conservatorship. The court was closed the public and media but filings show that the judge requested an independent expert review of the conservatorship.
Britney has two children, Jayden and Sean Preston with her ex-husband Kevin Federline. In the original divorce agreement, the two split custody 50/50, with Britney’s father Jamie charged with supervising her time with them as stipulated by the conservatorship.
However, in August 2019, Jamie allegedly had a physical altercation with his grandson Sean Preston, supposedly breaking down a door and shaking then 13-year-old. The incident led Kevin Federline to file a police report and a restraining order against Jamie on behalf of his sons. Britney’s other son Jayden did an unsupervised Instagram Live in March of 2020, in which he called his grandfather “a pretty big d*ck… he should go die”.
Although Jamie was not to be prosecuted, he made a request to the court shortly afterwards to temporarily step down as Britney’s conservator due to health reasons and submitting Britney’s care manager Jodi Árus Bridge to take over as temporary conservator until January 2020.
In September 2019, it was announced that Britney and her ex Kevin Federline had reached a new custody arrangement in which he would have 70% physical custody and complete legal custody of the boys. It also stipulated that Jamie could no longer be the mandated supervisor of Britney’s time with the boys.
It was claimed that this made been the de facto arrangement for some time and they were just making it legal, but many #FreeBritney fans felt the timing between Jamie’s altercation with his grandson and this new, reduced custody arrangement seemed more than coincidental.
Okay, but how does Britney feel?
Up until yesterday, it was very hard to know how Britney felt about it. Aside from reassuring fans that she’s okay, Britney hasn’t spoken much to the press about her father and the conservatorship, although she did make clear in court documents that she does not want her father and her conservator.
There have been clues though, that she was unhappy with the arrangement. Last year she quoted from a book that tells the story of a woman desperate to escape her father. A former photographer for Britney during her 2008 Circus tour also came out with a letter reportedly given to him by the star during those years. He said the original was destroyed by the conservatorship but he made a copy. At the time he was still under contract and unable to say anything, but felt now might be the right time to come forward with it.
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Didn’t something happen in 2020?
The May 2019 review into Britney’s conservatorship finally went ahead in November 2020. During the court hearings, Britney asked for her father to be removed from his role and Jodi Montgomery to take over as her permanent conservator. She also requested that there be more transparency over the actions of the conservatorship.
Britney said she feared her father, that she wouldn’t perform while he was her conservator, adding that she has not spoken to her father in a very long time. The judge refused to suspend Jamie Spear as conservator but did require him to co-conserve with the Bessemer Trust looking after Britney’s financial assets, as per her request. The judge also said she would still hear future pleas to suspend or remove Jamie Spear as Britney’s conservator in the future, leaving the door open just a crack.
Ending a conservatorship is not straightforward. According to the courts, a conservatorship is usually for life but can be ended at the application to the court by the conservatee or the conservator. However, as Britney is not deemed legally fit to hire a lawyer, with her father instead of choosing her legal representative, you can see the catch-22.
It does seem strange that the singer would be held under the conservatorship while continuing to work and function at such a high level all these years. The conservators have claimed that the arrangement is necessary due to undisclosed long-term mental health issues. However, as much as the singer has refused to openly criticise the #FreeBritney movement, nor has she applied for the end of her conservatorship. Which, incidentally, might be one of the only rights left to her.
However, she’s since said that she was never told that it was in her power to end the conservatorship, blaming her lawyers, and considering her damning remarks of the last decade and explicit demand to get her life back, it looks like this battle is only beginning.