For 13 years now, Britney Spears has had no legal control over her estate, assets, fortunes, and her life. In a court hearing, the US pop star said she was traumatised and cried every day. "I just want my life back," she said.
Britney Spears' career has been in the hands of legal guardians in an arrangement known as a conservatorship after her mental health breakdown in 2008. A series of seemingly erratic behavious—such as shaving her head and attacking a paparazzo's car with an umbrella, the singer was put under a "5150 hold" in a psychiatric hospital for a mental health evaluation. This is when her father Jamie petitioned courts for an emergency "temporary" conservatorship, alluding to the fact that his daughter was unable to properly care and manage herself amid her mental health struggles.
The court-ordered agreement gave her father, Jamie Spears, control over her estate and other aspects of her life.
The conservatorship — a legal guardianship typically enacted for those incapable of making their own decisions — was approved in Los Angeles Superior Court in 2008.
The long legal row gained renewed attention this year following the release of Framing Britney Spears - a documentary that centred on the conflict over the singer's guardianship. The documentary was also a result of a campaign by the pop star's fans- known as the #FreeBritney campaign- a term that dates back to 2009. Her fans believe that she is being held prisoner and claim she has been sending coded pleas for help through her social media videos.
What Is Conservatorship?
A conservatorship is granted by a court for individuals who are unable to make their own decisions, like those with dementia or other mental illnesses. In Britney's case, Britney is considered the "conservatee" and her father, Jamie, the "conservator."
Her conservatorship is split into two parts - one is for her estate and financial affairs, the other is for her as a person. Her father, Jamie Spears was initially in charge of both parts of the conservatorship but stepped down as his daughter's personal conservator in 2019 because of health reasons. Jodi Montgomery, a care professional, replaced him on a temporary basis but Britney Spears has requested this be made permanent.
The singer's fans though have long questioned the conservatorship terms and through the #FreeBritney movement have alleged that it is not in her best interest. FreeBritney.net, launched in 2009, penned an overarching statement on why they believe Britney does not need a conservatorship this far into her life and career. "During the twelve years of Spears' conservatorship she has repeatedly toured the world, released multiple albums, and worked on a variety of television shows," the site pointed out.
It's true. Until 2019, Britney Spears dropped an album every two to three years. She also had a four-year Las Vegas residency; her final performance grossed $1.1 million, the highest ever reported for a single theater Las Vegas residency show. Not just that, while creating music she also launched clothing and perfume lines, landed a luxury fashion campaign. She also made numerous television appearances, including a stint as a judge on the US X Factor.
The #FreeBritney supporters have also taken to the streets to protest against Britney's conservatorship.
Britney Spears' most recent financial documents showed that she had a net worth of $59 million as of 2018. That year, she spent $400,000 on living expenses and $66,000 on household supplies. Her father took home $128,000 of her earnings. Meanwhile, she spent $1.1 million on her legal and conservator fees that year.
Insider has a detailed timeline of how the conservatorship came around and what it has meant for Britney Spears.
What Does Britney Spears Want?
In a 24-minute statement against the conservatorship before a Los Angeles probate judge Brenda Penny on Wednesday, the singer said she wants her life back. While Spears made her emotional appeal to the judge through address via videolink, her diehard fans chanted their support outside the courtroom.
"I just want my life back. And it's been 13 years. And it's enough. It's been a long time since I've owned my money. And it's my wish and my dream for all of this to end without being tested. Again, it makes no sense whatsoever for the state of California to sit back and literally watch me with their own two eyes, make a living for so many people, and pay so many people, trucks and buses on the road with me and be told, I'm not good enough. But I'm great at what I do..."
The mother of two said that under the legal arrangement she has been prevented from having a contraceptive implant removed, despite wanting more children. She also said that she has been put on the psychiatric drug lithium against her wishes.
She said when she said no to a show in Vegas, her therapist told her that he got a million phone calls telling him that she wasn't taking her medication. "All this was false," she said.
"He immediately, the next day, put me on lithium out of nowhere. He took me off my normal meds I've been on for five years. And lithium is a very, very strong and completely different medication compared to what I was used to. You can go mentally impaired if you take too much, if you stay on it longer than five months. But he put me on that and I felt drunk. I really couldn't even take up for myself..."
The pop singer said that all she wants now is to own her own money. "Now, going forward, I'm not willing to meet or see anyone. I've met with enough people against my will. I'm done. All I want is to own my money, for this to end, and my boyfriend to drive me in his fucking car."
In her statement, Britney Spears also said that she would want to take legal action against her family.
"I would honestly like to sue my family, to be totally honest with you. I also would like to be able to share my story with the world, and what they did to me, instead of it being a hush-hush secret to benefit all of them. I want to be able to be heard on what they did to me by making me keep this in for so long, it is not good for my heart. I've been so angry and I cry every day. It concerns me, I'm told I'm not allowed to expose the people who did this to me."
She urged that the "laws need to change".
"And I'm tired of feeling alone. I deserve to have the same rights as anybody does, by having a child, a family, any of those things, and more so."
The full transcript of what Britney Spears said in the court is here.
Britney Spears has been trying to end the conservatorship for several years. Earlier this week, New York Times published a report citing private legal documents that state she has been battling the legal hurdle citing mismanagement by her father. "She feels the conservatorship has become an oppressive and controlling tool against her," a court investigator wrote in a 2016 report. In November 2020, a judge declined to remove her father but named financial firm the Bessemer Trust as a co-conservator of her estate instead. A month later, the judge extended her father-- Jamie Spears' conservatorship until September 2021.
Following her statement, her father's lawyer said that said he was "sorry to see her in so much pain" and that he loved his daughter "very much."