Britney Spears’s conservatorship terminated after nearly 14 years

Musician regains independence after legal arrangement denied her right to make key life decisions

A judge has approved the termination of Britney Spears’s conservatorship, freeing the pop star from the controversial legal arrangement that has controlled her life for nearly 14 years.

The ruling marks an extraordinary victory for the singer who had fought for years to regain her independence from the courts, which in 2008 took away her rights to make basic decisions about her finances, career and personal life.

Friday’s decision to dissolve the conservatorship, a form of court-appointed guardianship, means that Spears will retake control of her estate and will no longer be required to pay a team of professionals and attorneys to oversee her affairs.

Confetti falls as people cheer upon hearing that Spears’s conservatorship has been terminated.
Confetti falls as people cheer upon hearing that Spears’s conservatorship has been terminated. Photograph: Caroline Brehman/EPA

“The conservatorship of the person and of the estate of Britney Jean Spears is hereby terminated,” said the Los Angeles judge Brenda Penny, announcing the ruling. She said John Zabel, an accountant involved on the financial side of the conservatorship, would temporarily continue in a limited role handling a few administrative issues, including transferring assets and estate planning.

A crowd of fans launched confetti and erupted in cheers and chants of “Britney is free!” after the judge’s ruling, with supporters screaming the pop star’s song Stronger in unison.

“Her music has got me through some of the hardest times of my life,” said Vanessa Rundlett, 35, who traveled from Rhode Island to the hearing and was in tears when news of the termination reached the crowd outside court. “She is a pillar of strength. She has been soldiering on through all of this and has not lost her faith.”

Spears tweeted after the ruling: “Good God I love my fans so much … Best day ever,” and shared a video of the celebration outside the courthouse, using the hashtag #FreedBritney.

Good God I love my fans so much it’s crazy 🥺❤️ !!! I think I’m gonna cry the rest of the day !!!! Best day ever … praise the Lord … can I get an Amen 🙏🏼☀️🙌🏼 ???? #FreedBritney

🎥: @AbbyShalawylo

— Britney Spears (@britneyspears) November 12, 2021

Before the ruling, Mathew Rosengart, Spears’s attorney, told the court that he and others involved in the conservatorship had put in place a “safety net” for her finances and her personal affairs to ensure a smooth transition.

Lawyers for the conservators and Spears’s parents said they supported termination, and the judge said she agreed it was “no longer required”.

The end of the conservatorship comes five months after Spears, 39, spoke publicly about the arrangement for the first time in court, saying she had been forced to take medications and perform against her will, and that her father, Jamie Spears, had been an abusive conservator who tightly controlled intimate details of her life. A judge suspended her father from the conservatorship in September.

The case has sparked international protests and prompted widespread scrutiny of the media’s treatment of female pop stars and of the opaque guardianship system that affects millions of people. Fans, who have been organizing #FreeBritney demonstrations for years, shut down the street outside the courthouse in downtown Los Angeles on Friday to rally in support of termination and planned a “freedom party” in the evening.

Spears was first placed into a conservatorship while facing apparent mental health struggles amid vicious paparazzi abuse in 2008. She quickly objected to the arrangement and her father’s role in it, reporting has since revealed, and she tried to hire her own lawyer to advocate for her. But the courts ruled that she did not have the capacity to select an attorney, and instead gave her a court-appointed lawyer, Samuel D Ingham III.

Conservatorships are typically put in place for older or infirm people who can no longer make decisions for themselves, but in Spears’s case, the courts established an indefinite conservatorship even as she continued with her hugely successful career. The arrangement forced her to pay Ingham, her father and his legal team, and others involved in the court case.

Spears strongly objected to the arrangement for years, the New York Times reported this year, citing confidential court documents, but Ingham, who made an estimated $3m representing Spears, charging $475 an hour, did not advocate for the conservatorship to end. In 2016, while Spears was performing her hit Las Vegas residency and releasing her ninth studio album, she outlined a range of disturbing allegations to a court investigator, the records showed.

britney spears
After Britney Spears’s testimony, along with a pair of documentaries about the case, the parties involved said they supported termination of the conservatorship. Photograph: Valérie Macon/AFP/Getty Images

She allegedly told the court that those involved in the conservatorship had made her perform while sick with a fever, that her security team and assistant held her credit card and used it whenever they wanted, that she was limited to a weekly allowance, and that her father prohibited her from making cosmetic changes to her kitchen. In a closed-door hearing that year, the Times reported, she also said she was forced into a mental health facility against her will, which she viewed as retaliation for speaking up in a rehearsal.

Despite those private objections, the arrangement continued for years with few changes. Ingham more recently began raising concerns about Jamie’s treatment of his daughter, saying in court last year that she was “afraid of her father”, but the lawyer did not file for Spears to regain her independence.

The case took a dramatic turn in June when Spears requested that she be allowed to speak publicly and then detailed her complaints, including claims that her boyfriend wasn’t allowed to drive her in his car and that she was barred from removing her birth control. She also said she did not know that she could file a petition to end the conservatorship.

In July, Spears was allowed to hire her own lawyer and brought on Rosengart, who has since aggressively advocated for Jamie to be removed and has vowed to investigate his actions and handling of her money.

Amid the upheaval prompted by Spears’s testimony and two explosive documentaries about the case, the parties on all sides of the conservatorship came out and said they now supported termination.

The judge on Friday scheduled a follow-up hearing for 19 January to resolve outstanding administrative issues related to the estate, but said the conservatorship was, in effect, immediately terminated.

Junior Olivas, one of the first fans to protest outside court, said when he had begun rallying in April 2019, he thought Spears would be freed from the conservatorship within a month. He had no idea it would be a years-long battle: “It took documentaries and the whole world talking about it, but oh my God, we’re finally here … I knew this day would come. But it felt like it took for ever.”

Matthew Rosengart, attorney for Britney Spears, leaves court on Friday.
Matthew Rosengart, attorney for Britney Spears, leaves court on Friday. Photograph: Chris Pizzello/AP

Meg Radford, another longtime #FreeBritney organizer, noted that it was just earlier this year that Jamie was calling fans “conspiracy theorists” for expressing concerns about her wellbeing. “Jamie Spears was able to control the narrative by calling us crazy … and the court records were sealed for so long that people weren’t able to find the truth.”

Even with the arrangement terminated, Rosengart has said he will continue investigating Jamie, including the recent claims that he hired a security team that monitored his daughter’s private communications.

The case has prompted guardianship reform efforts at the state and federal level, with California recently passing a law that establishes conservatees’ rights to hire their own counsel.

Jasmine E Harris, a University of Pennsylvania law professor and expert in conservatorships, said this kind of termination was rare. Once a court deemed someone incapable of making decisions, she said, it was difficult for that person to prove that their rights should be restored, and most often, conservatorships lasted until the individual died.

“I think this would have gone another 13 years had it not been for that moment … when Britney was allowed to speak on her own behalf,” Harris said, adding that she hoped the public now understood that people of all ages could lose their independence through the guardianship system, and that this was a disability rights issue. She also urged more investments to alternatives to conservatorship so that people could get the support they needed without the “nuclear option” of having their fundamental rights stripped away.

Radford said the #FreeBritney activists would continue to fight for accountability in Spears’s conservatorship and for broader reform: “I think this court case will go down in history books, and Britney’s case will be the catalyst for significant change for conservatorships and guardianships and how we treat our elderly and our disabled in the court system.”

She added: “I hope Britney takes time to heal and learn how to re-enter the world … And when she’s ready, if she wants to tell her story, I would love to hear this story from Britney directly someday.”

After the hearing on Friday, fans broke down in tears and danced in celebration.

“I’ve been following Britney since I was kid,” said Carlos Atune, 29, choking up. “She brought happiness and hope to all of us, and she deserves to be happy now, too. Now that she’s free she can finally make her own decisions.”

Bri Martinez, 27, said that Spears’s fight during the conservatorship had helped give her confidence: “As a disabled woman, I’m very thankful to be a part of this movement. It has given me the opportunity to enhance my voice.”


Sam Levin in Los Angeles

The GuardianTramp

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