Overprotected: A Timeline of Britney Spears’s Conservatorship and the #FreeBritney Movement

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(Feature Image: “Free Britney Rally,” by Mike Maguire, licensed under CC BY 2.0)

In February 2008, American singer, songwriter, and dancer Britney Spears entered into a conservatorship with her father, Jamie Spears. This followed a series of events including, among other things, Britney shaving her head, attacking the paparazzi, and a very public divorce. More than a decade later, she has recently made steps to regain control of her life after a judge suspended her father’s conservatorship of her $60 million estate and assigned a temporary replacement to oversee her finances. What exactly does a conservatorship entail? We’ll explore this legal topic, as well as the timeline of events that sparked the fan-led #FreeBritney movement.

What is a Conservatorship?

The human rights movement that began in the 1960s raised questions about those with disabilities. In an effort to address the need for legal protection, the 1969 revision of the Uniform Probate Code[1]Proceedings in Committee of the Whole – Uniform Probate Code, UNIFORM PROBATE CODE VOLUME 2 A-1 (5). This document is located in HeinOnlne’s National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws database. is the first step towards addressing the necessity for “guardians” or “conservators.”

Excerpt from the 1969 revision of the Uniform Probate Code

Under United States law, a conservatorship is when a judge appoints a guardianship or protector to manage financial and/or daily life matters for a person. A conservatorship is not limited to a person, and can apply to corporations and organizations as well. A judge must determine that the person is unable to handle these responsibilities due to age or physical or mental limitations. Courts can initiate conservatorship proceedings, or they can be petitioned by a person. In this case, Jamie Spears petitioned the court reporting that Britney was suffering from dementia.

This law can vary from state to state. In California, Britney was considered the “conservatee” and her father, Jamie, was considered the “conservator.” In Britney’s case, she was placed under a probate conservatorship, which includes general conservatorship of herself and her estate.

According to the Handbook for Conservators for the state of California, the conservator can make arrangements for the conservatee’s meals, health care, clothing, transportation, recreation, and more. They can also manage the conservatee’s finances, locate and take control of all assets, set a budget for the conservatee, and even invest the conservatee’s money.

To end a conservatorship, the conservatee has to ask the court to end the arrangement. A court investigator would then look into the case and a judge would make a decision based on the information provided. The court can also remove a conservator if they are not fulfilling their legal duties.

A Timeline of Events

Mrs. Extra! Extra! This Just In!

Britney Spears, who gained fame in the late 1990s and early 2000s, has become one of the world’s best-selling music artists. She was married to Kevin Federline for three years when she filed for divorce and custody of their two sons. A widely publicized divorce and custody battle shortly ensued. Britney’s behavior became erratic. She was in and out of treatment facilities, charged with a hit-and run, and eventually lost custody of her two sons.

Her father, Jamie, petitioned the state of California for temporary conservatorship claiming Britney suffered from dementia after a 24-hour psychiatric hold that was placed on his daughter. Although no medical records corroborated this claim, Jamie was granted temporary conservatorship. Britney expressed her desire to end the conservatorship and hired an attorney, but instead a judge assigned her a court-appointed attorney while allowing her to have some freedom.

Overprotected

The conservatorship was extended to the end of 2008, when it eventually became permanent. Attorney Andrew Wallet was made a co-conservator of Britney’s estate, while Jamie maintained conservator of her person, overseeing her medical care. Los Angeles Supreme Court Commissioner Reva Goetz granted the permanent conservatorship stating that Britney has shown she is “susceptible to undue influence.”

Britney continued to work under the conservatorship, releasing new albums, appearing as a judge on The X Factor, and beginning a concert residency in Las Vegas. Each year the conservatorship was extended. However, in early 2019 she announced she was taking an indefinite work hiatus due to her father’s health issues.

Britney Spear Instagram post

#FREEBRITNEY

A few months later, Britney entered a 30-day voluntary residential treatment facility. Around the same time, the podcast Britney’s Gram released a voicemail from an anonymous source claiming to be a part of Britney’s legal team stating that Britney was involuntarily being held at the treatment facility. This sparked the social media movement #FreeBritney, where fans hoped to bring attention to the conservatorship. Fans even protested outside West Hollywood City Hall calling for her release from the treatment facility. She was released later that month.

In 2020, Covid-19 hit and put a halt on any court hearings. Shortly after, the #FreeBritney movement gained traction a second time when Britney posted a strange TikTok video that prompted fans to speculate about her well-being. In response to the publicity, Britney’s mother, Lynne Spears, filed to be included in all financial decisions through the conservatorship. During that hearing, a new ruling was issued sealing all proceedings from the public eye. A few months later, Jamie Spears temporarily stepped down as conservator, claiming health issues. Jodi Montgomery, who was the care manager, was court appointed as his replacement.

In February 2021, The New York Times released an award-winning documentary titled Framing Britney Spears, featuring Britney’s struggles and conservatorship. This again fueled the #FreeBritney movement a third time.

Stronger Than Yesterday

On June 23, 2021, audio from a conservatorship hearing was leaked. It included Britney speaking to the judge about how she had been isolated, medicated, and emotionally abused, placing blame on the California legal system for letting it happen.

I was told right now in the conservatorship, I’m not able to get married or have a baby. I have an IUD inside of myself right now, so I don’t get pregnant. I wanted to take the IUD out so I could start trying to have another baby. But this so-called team won’t let me go to the doctor to take it out because they they don’t want me to have children — any more children.
Britney Spears

After this hearing, Judge Penny denied the motion to remove Jamie Spears, while also approving Bessemer Trust to co-conserve alongside Spears. However, the next day Bessemer Trust filed a petition to withdraw after hearing Britney’s testimony. A few weeks later, Larry Rudolph, Britney’s manager of 25 years, and her court-appointed lawyer Samuel D. Ingram both resigned.

Later that month Judge Penny granted Britney the right to select her own attorney, Matthew Rosengart. He then filed a petition to remove Jamie Spears as conservator, citing Jamie’s mismanagement of Britney’s money backed by both co-conservator Jodi Montgomery and Lynne Spears. Jamie fired back in a petition opposing his suspension, stating Britney was “mentally sick.” He then agreed to step down at the request of Judge Penny. A hearing to discuss termination of the entire conservatorship is scheduled for November 12, 2021.

Call for Reform

While many call this a win for Britney, it’s also a call for reform. Shortly after the final ruling, the topic of “toxic conservatorship”[2]167 Cong. Rec. D1061 (2021). This document is located within HeinOnline’s U.S. Congressional Documents database. came up during a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing. The New York Times documentary among other events has shed light on how conservatorships can go wrong, and Senators are aware a larger discussion needs to be had.

At the state level, California Governor Gavin Newsom has signed into law a bill, also known as the #FreeBritney bill, to reform conservatorships in California. This law holds conservators at a much higher standard by requiring them to disclose their fees online and prohibits financial conflicts of interest. What’s more, a conservator can face a civil penalty if they have not acted in the best interest of their client. This bill saw unanimous bipartian support throughout the entire process.

Get More with HeinOnline

Let’s see what scholarly writing we can find on this topic. Run a search for “Britney Spears” AND conservat* in the Law Journal Library.

Search tip: The asterisk (*) will search for variations of a word. In this case it will search for conservator, conservatee, conservatorship, etc.

Screenshot of full text search example in the Law Journal Library

With this search we can find relevant articles, such as:

Navigate to the Advanced Search option. Let’s search for the term conservatorship and choose related PathFinder subjects such as Guardians and Guardianship.

Screenshot of advanced search in the Law Journal Library using PathFinder subjects

Sort the results by Number of times Accessed (Past 12 months) to see what other HeinOnline users are reading on this topic. You can find articles on guardianship monitoring,[7]Naomi Karp & Erica F. Wood, Guardianship Monitoring: A National Survey of Court Practices, 37 Stetson L. REV. 143 (2007). This article is located within HeinOnline’s Law Journal Library. proposal to reform[8]Lawrence A. Frolik & Linda S. Whitton, The UPC Substituted Judgment/Best Interest Standard for Guardian Decisions: A Proposal for Reform, 45 U. MICH. J.L. REFORM 739 (2012). This article is located within HeinOnline’s Law Journal Library. the Uniform Probate Code, and holding court-appointed attorneys liable.[9]Alberto Bernabe, Guarding the Guardians: Should Guardians ad Litem Be Immune from Liability for Negligence?, 51 LOY. U. CHI. L.J. 1001 (2020). This article is located within HeinOnline’s Law Journal Library.

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HeinOnline Sources

HeinOnline Sources
1 Proceedings in Committee of the Whole – Uniform Probate Code, UNIFORM PROBATE CODE VOLUME 2 A-1 (5). This document is located in HeinOnlne’s National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws database.
2 167 Cong. Rec. D1061 (2021). This document is located within HeinOnline’s U.S. Congressional Documents database.
3 Lisa Zammiello, Don’t You Know That Your Law Is Toxic? Britney Spears and Abusive Guardianship: A Revisionary Approach to the Uniform Probate Code, California Probate Code, and Texas Estates Code to Ensure Equitable Outcomes, 13 Est. PLAN. & CMTY. PROP. L.J. 587 (2021). This article is located within HeinOnline’s Law Journal Library.
4 Mary Ellis Patton, Overprotected? A Look at Guardianship and the Alternatives, 85 BENCH & B. 24 (2021). This article is located within HeinOnline’s Bar Journals Library.
5 Juliana Wright, It’s Mom’s Money and I Want It Now: A Review of Whether the Conservatee Should Continue to Pay the Attorney Fees of Feuding Parties, 52 U. PAC. L. REV. 963 (2021). This article is located within HeinOnline’s Law Journal Library.
6 Peter M. Walzer, Anthony D. Storm & Autumn Miley-Boland, Wealth, Fame and Fortune: Navigating the Treacherous Waters of High Stakes Family Law Litigation, 26 J. AM. ACAD. MATRIMONIAL LAW. 403 (2014). This article is located within HeinOnline’s Law Journal Library.
7 Naomi Karp & Erica F. Wood, Guardianship Monitoring: A National Survey of Court Practices, 37 Stetson L. REV. 143 (2007). This article is located within HeinOnline’s Law Journal Library.
8 Lawrence A. Frolik & Linda S. Whitton, The UPC Substituted Judgment/Best Interest Standard for Guardian Decisions: A Proposal for Reform, 45 U. MICH. J.L. REFORM 739 (2012). This article is located within HeinOnline’s Law Journal Library.
9 Alberto Bernabe, Guarding the Guardians: Should Guardians ad Litem Be Immune from Liability for Negligence?, 51 LOY. U. CHI. L.J. 1001 (2020). This article is located within HeinOnline’s Law Journal Library.
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