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What is conservatorship? Understanding the law behind #FreeBritney

Britney Spears spoke publicly for the first time in 13 years about a conservatorship she told a court has done her more harm than good. But what is this law?
Credit: Charles Sykes/Invision/AP
Britney Spears performs at the MTV Video Music Awards at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

LOS ANGELES — Britney Spears asked a judge to end court conservatorship that has controlled her life and money since 2008.

For the first time in it's 13 year existence, Spears publicly condemned the conservatorship and the people controlling it.

"I want to end this conservatorship without being evaluated," Spears said. "This conservatorship is doing me way more harm than good. I deserve to have a life." 

The 39-year-old singer also told the court her father, Jamie Spears, "should be in jail" and that she was "done." 

But what is a conservatorship?

According to the Superior Court of California, conservatorship is a legal concept in the United States.

It allows a judge to grant a guardian or guardians control over an individual’s finances if that person is physically or mentally unable to manage them on their own. 

A conservator can be responsible for their conservatee’s estate or their “person,” which would mean that the conservator manages their daily life, living arrangements, health decisions, and more.

There are also limited conservatorships for those who can make important decisions for themselves.

Britney Spears has had a conservatorship since February 2008, when she was put on an involuntary psychiatric hold following an incident when paparazzi captured her attacking a car with an umbrella. 

This was the infamous “shaved head” debacle that saw Spears get widely ridiculed in the media, and she was hospitalized twice. 

This April 12, 2018 file photo shows Britney Spears at the 29th annual GLAAD Media Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

At the time, her father James, or Jaime, Spears, petitioned L.A. courts for an emergency conservatorship and said his daughter couldn’t take care of herself. 

It was meant to be a temporary move that ended up lasting over a decade. 

For the majority of that time, other people - mostly her father, but also a lawyer and other entities at various points - had the legal right to oversee every major decision she made. 

That included matters from business to health, voting and even marriage.  

Her father and these other entities also oversaw Spears' financial assets, a fortune worth an estimated $60 million dollars.

A few months after the conservatorship was established in 2008, Spears went on to stage a comeback tour, debuting the album Circus, filming a documentary and eventually establishing a permanent tour in Las Vegas.

But since 2009, there has been a small segment of fans within a movement called #FreeBritney who claimed she was being held as a sort of legal hostage.

It was a decades-long suspicion held by these fans that was exacerbated in 2020, when a series of New York Times articles and a documentary, which hinted Spears might not be a huge fan of her father acting in the role as conservator, were published. 

Jaime Spears stepped away from handling his daughter's medical decisions in 2019, citing medical problems himself. A woman named Jodi Montgomery stepped in, but Spears' father was never officially removed as her conservator by the courts. 

The fear held by fans that Spears felt trapped within this conservatorship was confirmed by the pop star Wednesday, as she told the court she wanted to marry her boyfriend and have a baby but the conservatorship will not allow her to do so. 

About 100 fans from the #FreeBritney movement gathered outside the courthouse before the hearing in support of the singer.