Britney Spears: Singer’s conservatorship case explained

image copyrightReutersimage captionSpears is expected to appear remotely at a hearing on 23 June

US pop star Britney Spears is set to address a court in Los Angeles about the management of her business and personal affairs.

The singer's career has been in the hands of legal guardians in an arrangement known as a conservatorship since 2008 when she faced a public mental health crisis.

The court-ordered agreement gave her father, Jamie Spears, control over her estate and other aspects of her life.

But the singer later sought to dismiss her father from the role.

A grassroots movement of fans, known as the #FreeBritney campaign, wants the singer to regain autonomy over her affairs.

The prolonged legal row gained renewed attention in 2021 following the release of Framing Britney Spears – a documentary which centred on the conflict over the singer's guardianship.

What is the 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.

Spears' conservatorship is split into two parts – one is for her estate and financial affairs, the other is for her as a person. Under this legal agreement, Spears has not controlled her finances since 2008.

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 has also indicated through lawyers that she no longer wants her father to be involved in handling her career.

image copyrightGetty Imagesimage captionThe conservatorship gives the singer's father (L) control over his daughter's personal affairs

A lawyer said Spears was "afraid of her father" and would not return to the stage while he retained control.

In November 2020, a judge declined to remove Mr Spears but named financial firm the Bessemer Trust as a co-conservator of her estate instead.

A month later, the judge extended Mr Spears' conservatorship until September 2021.

Earlier this year a lawyer for the singer requested a hearing where she could address "the court directly" about her conservatorship – with a hearing date set for 23 June.

It is unclear what she will say but she is expected to appear remotely, according to US reports.

Why was the conservatorship set up?

Spears began behaving erratically in 2007 after her divorce from Kevin Federline was finalised and she lost custody of their two children.

A series of public incidents raised concern about her mental welfare, with the star making headlines for shaving her head and hitting a photographer's car with an umbrella.

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In 2008 she was twice admitted to hospital under a temporary psychiatric assessment ruling, including after an incident in which she allegedly refused to surrender her sons in a stand-off involving police.

Her temporary conservatorship was established around this time and has been gradually extended for over a decade since – though specifics of the order have never been made public.

In the years under the conservatorship, Spears has not been short of work: she released three albums, held a successful Las Vegas residency, and made numerous television appearances, including a stint as a judge on the US X Factor.

image copyrightGetty Imagesimage captionSpears has been on an indefinite work hiatus since cancelling a Las Vegas residency in January 2019

As of 2018, Spears had a net worth of $59m (£46m), Business Insider reported, citing financial documents. In the same year, Spears spent $1.1m on legal and conservator fees, according to court documents obtained by the Entertainment Tonight website.

What is the #FreeBritney campaign?

The term #FreeBritney dates back to 2009, according to a New York Times report, from a fan site that disagreed with the conservatorship agreement.

After Spears abruptly cancelled a Las Vegas residency and checked into a mental health centre in 2019 citing emotional distress from her father's illness, the campaign gained renewed prominence.

image copyrightReutersimage captionFans of the pop star have been gathering outside court for hearings about her conservatorship

Some of Spears' fans believe she has been forced to stay under the arrangement and even asked the White House to end her conservatorship, submitting petitions with tens of thousands of signatures.

Campaigners for the #FreeBritney movement regularly demonstrate outside court hearings.

A number of celebrities have also expressed support for the campaign, including Paris Hilton, Bette Middler and Miley Cyrus.

What has Britney Spears said about all this?

The singer herself has not commented on the #FreeBritney or conservatorship battle directly – with her online persona tending to be upbeat and unrelated to the headlines surrounding her case.

Some supporters believe she uses social media to send secret messages. They point to instances where she appears to have responded to comments asking her to do things like wear a yellow outfit in her next post if she needed help.

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A post shared by Britney Spears (@britneyspears)

Sources close to the star, including her father, have repeatedly rejected the conspiracy theories and criticism surrounding the conservatorship.

The premiere of Framing Britney Spears in February 2021 renewed interest in her legal battle and prompted accusations that the singer was being exploited.

She later posted a video of herself dancing and said she had cried for "two weeks" over the documentary, although she said she had not watched it herself.

After a second documentary on the subject was released by the BBC, Spears posted another video of herself dancing with a caption hitting back again.

"They criticise the media and then do the same thing," the singer wrote in an Instagram post. "Why highlight the most negative and traumatizing times in my life from forever ago ????"

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