Britney Spears and Conservatorship in America
Posted: January 14, 2022
People around the world are familiar with pop star Britney Spears. Her career began at the age of 9 when she was cast on The Mickey Mouse Club, and she soon grew into one of the biggest stars of the 1990s and 2000s. In 1999, she released her album “…Baby One More Time,” which became the top-selling teenage debut album of all time. But this was only the beginning. Throughout her career, Spears received numerous awards and released seven chart-topping albums.
However, in 2007 her personal life and mental health issues took center stage, eclipsing her musical talent. Following several public instances of erratic behavior, the court placed Spears on a conservatorship under her father. This move was justified as being intended to help her receive the assistance necessary to protect her assets and encourage the positive trajectory of her career.
Britney Spears would labor under the conservatorship of her father, Jamie P. Spears, for an additional 13 years, only winning her independence from the ruling in 2021.
What Is a Conservatorship?
Essentially, a conservatorship occurs when the court deems an adult unable to make decisions by themselves. Typically, the court grants a conservatorship in cases involving a person who has a debilitating mental illness. However, these are not common for someone as young as Britney Spears.
Often, families use conservatorships to manage the finances and health of an aging family member. When a conservatorship is enacted, the conservator has total control over the conservatee’s life, so much so that many jurisdictions also call conservatorships “adult guardianships.”
There are several different types of conservatorships that grant the conservator control over certain aspects of the conservatee’s life. In the case of Britney Spears, her conservatorship entailed control over her finances and estate, along with controls over her personal life and career.
Establishing the Need for a Conservatorship
Obtaining a conservatorship is a time-consuming process that entails many court hearings and extensive paperwork, including ongoing documentation to establish the need for continuing the conservatorship. Typically, all of these court proceedings and documents are public records.
Although the requirements to establish the need for a conservatorship and the responsibilities of a conservator vary by state, it must be proven that the conservatee in question is incapable of making sound decisions for themselves. However, the court will not declare a person in need of a conservatorship just for making irresponsible decisions. Even a mental illness alone generally isn’t enough to warrant this drastic legal move.
Most people placed under conservatorship are elderly or have a severe illness that renders them incapable of managing important affairs in their lives. Situations that might lead to a conservatorship include:
A sudden illness that leads to legal incapacities, like a coma
A debilitating chronic illness that develops over time, such as dementia
A person who is disabled with an illness like cerebral palsy, which requires constant care that cannot be independently managed by the conservatee
Did Britney Spears Really Need a Conservatorship?
With all this in mind, the conservatorship which affected Britney Spears seems to be an unusual case. Given Spears’ accomplishments from a young age, many fans are now wondering whether a conservatorship was necessary in the first place.
How the Conservatorship Began
Concerns regarding Britney Spears’ mental health arose in 2007 when she frequently made headlines for her constant partying and offbeat behavior. Her most highly publicized actions include a night where she got two tattoos, then went to a hair salon, grabbed a pair of clippers, and shaved her head. The hairstylist commented on Spears’ distraught and tearful state, stating that she seemed “just there in body and not really emotionally there.” Around the same time, Britney Spears also made headlines for confronting a photographer with an umbrella.
In early January 2008, Britney Spears was hospitalized at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles after a custody dispute with her ex-husband. Later during the same month, she was hospitalized again. Britney Spears continued to receive psychiatric care until February 1, 2008, when the court granted her father “temporary conservatorship.” On October 28, 2008, the court extended the conservatorship indefinitely, allowing Jamie Spears total control over his daughter’s personal and financial affairs. Britney Spears was only 26 years old.
Life Under Conservatorship
On April 25, 2012, Jamie Spears requested Britney Spears’ fiance, Jason Trawick, to be granted co-conservatorship. As a result, Jason Trawick gained control over nearly every aspect of Britney’s life, excluding her finances. This proved to be another odd exception to the standard concept of conservatorship, considering that most people under conservatorship are not considered mentally sound enough to get married in the first place.
Trawick had the final say in Spears’ diet, medical care, and even her clothing. Meanwhile, Jamie Spears still had full authority over Britney’s finances. He paid himself $16,000 a month from her estimated $60 million estate. He also received profits from Britney’s tours and any other business endeavors she undertook, while Britney received an allowance of $2,000 a week — roughly half the money her father was receiving from her work.
And during the conservatorship, Britney Spears was still working. She did several tours and a residency in Las Vegas. This presents yet another unusual exception, as most conservatees cannot work. However, Spears’ performances and business deals grossed an estimated $138 million throughout the 14-year conservatorship.
If Spears did not perform or follow her father’s orders, he would reportedly restrict access to her money. In addition, Britney Spears could not carry a credit card and was forced to use an IUD birth control device, despite wanting more children. Her father also determined details such as who she was allowed to date and what color her kitchen cabinets would be.
During this time, Spears has alleged that her father had a drinking problem and subjected those around him to verbal and physical abuse.
The End of the Britney Spears’ Conservatorship
As years passed and Britney Spears continued to live under the restrictions of her conservatorship, fans repeatedly expressed concern about the terms and necessity of the ruling. In 2021, interest in her wellbeing underwent an online resurgence following an episode of the Britney’s Gram podcast. In the episode, an anonymous lawyer involved in the case voiced concerns about the conservatorship and Britney’s conditions. Quickly, the #FreeBritney movement began making waves and shining a renewed light on the question of the conservatorship’s validity.
Evidently, Britney Spears had been completely unaware that she could hire her own lawyer to challenge the conservatorship. “I didn’t know I could petition the conservatorship to end it. I’m sorry for my ignorance, but I honestly didn’t know that,” Britney said, according to Newsweek.
After multiple trials and denied requests to end the conservatorship, Britney Spears was finally granted freedom on November 15, 2021, now at the age of 39. In a series of social media posts, Spears celebrated the dissolution of her conservatorship and thanked fans for their support.
“My voice was muted and threatened for so long and I wasn’t able to speak up or say anything,” Spears said. “Because of you, I honestly think you guys saved my life in a way, 100 per cent.”
In regard to her hopes to serve as an ongoing advocate for people in similar legal situations, Spears added: “I’m a very strong woman, so I can only imagine what the system has done to those people so hopefully my story will make an impact and make some changes.”