The campaign to #FreeBritney has suddenly resurged on social media, as fans of Britney Spears continue to demand that the pop icon be relieved of the conservatorship that has controlled her life for more than a decade. Since 2008, Spears’ father, Jamie Spears, has acted as guardian over his daughter’s life, dictating every detail of her existence: from her career choices to her finances to her medical care. For years, fans have theorised that Spears is being held against her will and deserves justice.
But the legalities of a conservatorship are not privy to a massive social media campaign that calls for a celebrity's "freedom." Spears' contractual obligations — for better or worse — are bound by a conservatorship that contains provisions for her finances, personal life, and mental health. Now, as the performer is due in court on July 22 for a hearing, questions around her current agreement leave many wondering how a conservatorship works, and whether or not Britney Spears is actually free to make decisions for her own well-being.
Spears’ conservatorship, like others, is a form of guardianship typically used for people suffering from debilitating health problems or those otherwise unable to care for themselves. Much like a guardianship that would be granted to a minor, if an adult is no longer able to care for themselves or manage their own finances, the court can appoint a conservator. The court will then provide the conservator — in this case, Spears' father — with the power to manage personal affairs, professional commitments, where someone lives, and even whether they are allowed to marry. Some conservatorships apply only to a person's care, while others focus on estate and financial holdings. In Spears' case, the terms of her conservatorship apply to both.
In the month leading up to the hearing, #FreeBritney reemerged as a trending hashtag, and fans started a petition asking the White House to end her conservatorship. This month alone, the petition has gained over 125,000 signatures. Questions about Britney Spears' freedom surfaced once again, in part after her mother, Lynne Spears, filed a request with the court to be included in the conservatorship. According to Lynne's request, she asked the court to be notified of all matters regarding legal proceedings, reportedly to help her daughter manage a trust set up for Spears’ two sons.
But the case itself is not new: The hashtag #FreeBritney dates back to 2009, according to the New York Times. It originated from a fan site that disagreed with the conditions of Spears’ conservatorship agreement, which reportedly began following a public mental health crisis including hospitalisations and a psychiatric hold in early 2008. In 2007, Chris Crocker's viral video "Leave Britney Alone" detailed the abuse the pop star endured from the media and at the hands of paparazzi, and how this was likely, in part, a reason for her mental breakdown. This video sparked an initial conversation about Spears' well-being that would continue to be a point of reference for almost 13 years.
After checking into a mental health facility, the court granted Spears' father a six-month temporary guardianship, which has turned into over a decade-long contractual agreement. And, just last year, her father filed a notice of intent to extend the conservatorship to three more states: Louisiana, Hawaii, and Florida, reports Entertainment Tonight.
From 2008 until 2019, Jamie acted as a conservator alongside lawyer Andrew Wallet over Spears’ $47 million (£40m) estate. In March of 2019, Wallet resigned from the position, leaving Jamie Spears as the sole conservator. Wallet reportedly offered no reason for his resignation. Then, on 5th September 2019, Jamie filed papers in a Los Angeles court to temporarily remove himself as a conservator, citing “personal health issues.”
Shortly after, it was reported that Britney Spears checked into a facility because she was upset about her father’s health condition. In the meantime, Jamie requested Jodi Montgomery to act as an interim conservator through 20th January 2020. According to court documents obtained by Us Magazine, Spears was exploring options to end her conservatorship when it was announced that it would be extended until the end of August 2020, extending Montgomery’s interim authority due to the coronavirus pandemic. It is unclear whether Montgomery's role will be included in Wednesday's hearing.
Many may wonder why, after over a decade, is the public looking for answers regarding Britney's conservatorship now? Theories have been simmering on the internet for years, and fervour has gone up and down. Spears herself has never commented directly on the #FreeBritney movement. The closest she has gotten is recently reassuring fans on her Instagram that she is doing well, but some fans – and one popular podcast – aren’t buying it.
According to the podcast Britney’s Gram, they received a voicemail from an anonymous paralegal who alleged that Spears was being held against her will and that she was in a facility, not because she was upset about her father, but because she refused to take her medication and Jamie had her put there. None of this has been proven beyond the podcasts' report, but between this and Spears’ mum liking #FreeBritney posts on the internet, the movement took off again in full force.
From a legal standpoint, whoever acts as Spears' conservator has the power to make decisions on her behalf regarding care she receives for her physical and mental health. The reasons for her stay may not be known outside of Spears' explanation. Whether she checked in voluntarily or was involuntarily committed by her conservator is not clear, but, according to the laws around conservatorship, her father or current guardian is technically allowed to sign off on this kind of mental treatment.
In April, Spears posted a video on Instagram explaining that her time in the mental health facility was “me time.” As the rumoured reason gained traction online thanks in part to Britney’s Gram, Spears posted again saying, “I am trying to take a moment for myself, but everything that’s happening is just making it harder for me. Don’t believe everything you read and hear.”
The tight legalities of Spears' case actually prompted questions a year ago, too, when the singer's conservatorship sued fan blog Absolutely Britney and its creator, Anthony Elia, for defamation in June 2019. The lawsuit claims that Elia made false accusations and perpetuated claims that the conservatorship was controlling Spears and manipulating her social media accounts as a cover-up. The conservatorship ultimately won the lawsuit.
There are many questions regarding how or why a conservatorship over a pop star like Britney Spears would amount to this much controversy — including the singer's possible admission into a mental health facility and the lawsuit against a fan blog . What we know definitively is that Spears’ hearing is scheduled for 22nd July, and there is a chance her conservatorship could end, but that hasn’t been listed as the reason for the hearing. The last time she petitioned for her conservatorship to end was in 2009, which was denied by the court. No public record has emerged that Spears has tried to end her conservatorship since then. And, given the vague outline of what will be addressed in the hearing on Wednesday, it is hard to know what effect this most recent adjudication will have on her life.
This is a developing story.