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What was the deal with Britney Spears’s 13-year conservatorship?

Britney Spears’s new memoir is shining a light on the singer’s recently concluded conservatorship.

Scheduled for release on Tuesday (24 October), The Woman In Me sees the Grammy winner chronicle several chapters of her life, including the legal arrangement that previously allowed her father James (known as Jamie) control over her career, finances, and personal life.

The controversial legal arrangement came to an end in November 2021, 13 years after it was put in place in 2008.

“The conservatorship of the person and estate of Britney Jean Spears is no longer required,” said Judge Brenda J Penny in a decision that gave the pop star back all of her legal rights.

The ruling arrived months after the release of Framing Britney Spears, a widely watched documentary by The New York Times, which among other topics, focused on the conservatorship and the long-running #FreeBritney movement that was led by her fans.

What is the history of the conservatorship?

Prior to 12 November 2021, Spears had remained under a legal conservatorship, which rendered the singer unable to make decisions concerning her personal life and career. A conservatorship is granted when a person is deemed unable to make their own decisions, typically because of mental incapacity.

In 2007, Spears divorced Kevin Federline, who won custody of their two children: Sean and Jayden, now 18 and 17. In the highly-publicised case, Federline claimed that Spears had been behaving erratically and abusing substances. Photographs of Spears shaving her head and smashing the window of a paparazzo’s car were circulated widely.

In January 2008, Spears was involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital for a second time. Her father and an attorney named Andrew Wallet were then granted temporary conservatorship the following month, which later became permanent.

Between 2008 and 2021, Spears’s father and Wallet controlled the singer’s assets. The agreement also meant the pair were able to restrict Spears’s visitors, communicate with doctors about her treatment, and manage her $60m (£47m) fortune.

In 2008, Rolling Stone captured a recording in which Spears can be heard in the background saying, “I basically just want my life back… I want to be able to drive my car. I want to be able to live in my house by myself. I want to be able to say who’s going to be my security guard.”

That same year in an interview with MTV, Spears compared her circumstances to a jail sentence with no end.

According to The New York Times, Spears’s conservators are required to submit detailed accounts of her purchases to the court, including minor charges below £3.

Her father reportedly also negotiated all of the singer’s business deals. The star’s court-appointed attorney, Stanton Stein, however, had insisted that Spears is “always involved in every career and business decision, period”.

In March 2019, Wallet resigned from his role as co-conservator. Appealing for the lifting of Spears’s conservatorship, Wallet said: “Substantial detriment, irreparable harm and immediate danger will result to the conservatee and her estate if the relief requested herein is not granted on an ex parte basis.”

Following that, Spears’s father, who in 2019 admitted that his relationship with his daughter has “always been strained”, filed a request in September to temporarily step down from his conservator role, citing his personal health.

A judge appointed “care manager” Jodi Montgomery as his temporary replacement.

It was in 2020 that Spears’s court-appointed lawyer, Samuel D Ingham III, said in a court filing for the first time that his client “strongly opposed” her father as conservator. It was requested that Montgomery be made permanent in her position as conservator and that the possibility for Spears to one day terminate her conservatorship remain open.

In November 2020, a judge declined to remove her father as head of her estate, despite Ingham telling the court that the singer was “afraid” of Jamie and would not perform again while he remained her conservator. The financial company Bessemer Trust was, however, appointed as co-conservator, as per Spears’s request.

In June 2021, Spears gave explosive testimony in the case petitioning for the court to end her conservatorship.

The singer told the judge: “I just want my life back.”

“I’ve been in shock. I am traumatised,” Spears said, as she branded the conservatorship “abusive” and even suggested her father should be jailed for his role in it.

Spears also told the court that she had been made to use a birth control device, to take medication, and work against her will.

Following that hearing, the “Toxic” singer was allowed for the first time to pick her own legal representation, and brought onboard Matthew Rosengart.

In the wake of that hearing, Jamie Spears also asked the judge to end the conservatorship.

What is the conservatorship situation as it stands now?

On 12 November 2021, the conservatorship came to an end after Judge Brenda J Penny ruled that the legal agreement was no longer necessary.

The ruling, which was called a “monumental day for Britney Spears” by her lawyer Rosengart, was celebrated by scores of her fans who had gathered outside the courthouse in downtown Los Angeles.

Spears was not present for the hearing, either in person or remotely. It was said that all parties in the case would meet at a future date to resolve any remaining financial issues in the case. Court papers in the case estimated her personal fortune at around $60m (£49m).

Speaking outside the courthouse, Rosengart said: “What’s next for Britney, and this is the first time this could be said for about a decade, is up to one person, Britney.”

“We have a safety net in place for Britney, both on the personal side and on the financial side.

“But Britney as of today is a free woman and she’s an independent woman. And the rest, with her support system, will be up to Britney.”

The judge’s decision came following a swell of support for the “#FreeBritney” movement, which had publicly supported the singer’s desire to regain control of her own affairs.

What is the #FreeBritney movement?

Fans of the star had long campaigned for the conservatorship to be lifted.

According to a New York Times report, the hashtag #FreeBritney dates back to a 2009 fan site, which disagreed with the legal agreement. The campaign gained momentum when Spears checked into a mental health care facility in 2019.

The movement once again came under the spotlight thanks to the release of Framing Britney in 2021. In the wake of the documentary, celebrities including Sarah Jessica Parker, Bette Midler and Miley Cyrus voiced their support for the movement.

While Spears did not directly reference the #FreeBritney movement in her legal battle to free herself from the conservatorship, the singer’s lawyer had previously said in a court filing that she “welcomes and appreciates the informed support of her many fans”.

The Woman In Me will be released on 24 October 2023.

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