In 2008, when singer Britney Spears was in her late 20s, she suffered a public mental health crisis where Spears shaved her head, threatened suicide, and was involuntarily hospitalized. Afterwards, a court appointed her father to be her conservator, meaning he controls her nearly $60 million estate.
But right now, he’s on temporary leave for health reasons, and Spears’ care manager, Jodi Montgomery, is her interim conservator.
Spears, now age 38, is fighting her dad in court and wants Montgomery to take over control of her conservatorship.
The legal fight has energized the online #FreeBritney movement. Her fans have shown up outside of the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in Los Angeles to support the singer during her court proceedings.
What exactly does a conservatorship entail?
“The obvious example is you think of the elderly relative, somebody who no longer has the mental and physical faculties to take care of themselves, to manage their money, to manage their health. And that person would be put under a conservatorship,” explains Madison Malone Kircher, senior writer for New York Magazine.
Kircher says that via Spears’ attorney and documents that leaked from the courts, it seems like the singer is looking for more freedom and changes.
“Filings from her lawyer obtained by … TMZ argues that she doesn’t have medical or sensitive issues that need to be protected anymore, so these hearings need to be happening in public. That’s a really interesting detail of Britney’s conservatorship — is that a judge agreed to seal all of the court proceedings, so the public has no idea what is going on,” says Kircher.
A few months ago, Spears posted on her social media that she accidentally started a fire in her home gym. Kircher says that the video clip doesn’t exactly instill confidence that Spears can take care of herself.
Kircher adds that Spears posted a video about how much she loved the movie “Frozen” — when the public asked if she was okay — and people interpreted that as Spears saying she was trapped like Elsa in the Disney film.
When it comes to the #FreeBritney movement, Kircher says that Spears’ supportive fans have actually hurt her court proceedings.
“This summer, a hearing on her conservatorship status was unable to take place because the Zoom call, which was supposed to be confidential, was Zoom-bombed, which is to say that people who were not involved in the ongoing case crashed it. And the proceedings could not happen with those people on the line. So the court date has now been pushed. Britney’s conservatorship will remain as it is until February of next year.”
Other celebrities go through this too. Kircher points to actress Amanda Bynes, who was placed under a conservatorship with her mother as her guardian in 2014. Since that time, Kircher explains, Bynes was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was vocal about living with the condition. She graduated from fashion school, and her conservatorship was extended to last through 2020.
“But in 2017, [Bynes] regained financial control of her life. Her mother still has some control through the conservatorship. But it has evolved and changed and grown with Amanda Bynes’ needs. And that’s what a conservatorship should in theory be doing,” says Kircher. “What you hear the Free Britney movement saying is Britney’s not getting that chance, that treatment.
— Written by Amy Ta, produced by Rosalie Atkinson