In light of the New York Times’ latest documentary, Framing Britney, released on Feb. 5, 2021, a deepening conversation regarding conservatorship abuse has been reintroduced to the public eye, bringing awareness to pop star Britney Spears’ 13 yearlong conservatorship and a call to end it.
Britney Spears rose to fame at a young age, almost immediately facing public criticism regarding who she was dating, how she dressed, and whether or not she was a positive influence on young girls. The paparazzi swarmed her for nearly a decade capturing every moment from positive to negative with no shame. Whether it was the stresses of filing for divorce following the birth of her second son, her mother’s suspicion of postpartum depression, or the continuous mom-shaming and slut-shaming in the press, the tabloid abuse caught up to her, causing what most remember to be her 2007 meltdown.
In early 2008, Spears was held on a 5150 hold and under psychiatric evaluation after refusing to hand her child back to ex-husband Kevin Federline. This was the time in which her father, Jamie Spears, filed for a temporary conservatorship that later became permanent.
As defined by Merriam Webster, a conservator is a person, official, or institution designated to take over and protect the interests of an incompetent. A conservator of the person makes decisions about personal matters such as clothing, housing, and food while the conservator of the estate makes all financial decisions from investments to the conservatee’s weekly allowance. Jamie Spears acted as both for his daughter.
For Britney Spears, being merely 27 years old at the time and almost immediately releasing albums, touring the world, joining X-Factor, and hosting a Las Vegas residency, the ethical aspect of the conservatorship gained attention and became controversial for such a young woman capable of being so productive.
According to the AARP, as of October 2018, an estimated 1.3 million adults have a conservator, with 85% of them being over the age of 65. Conservatorships are more common among elderly people with illnesses such as Alzheimer’s or brain damage as they are mentally and physically unable to take care of themselves.
The only ways a conservatorship can be terminated are if a conservatee passes away, no longer needs the assistance or the current conservator resigns and someone else takes over, as explained by Nolo.
Framing Britney makes it inherently obvious that she did not want her father to be in control of her life from the start. Those close to her reminisce on him being absent through much of her career, only to show up for financial situations. In more recent years, she has said that she refuses to work until her father is no longer her conservator.
In the 2008 MTV documentary, Britney Spears: For the Record, she opens up about the conservatorship.
“If I wasn’t under restraints right now, you know with all the lawyers and doctors and people analyzing me every day and all that kind of stuff,” she said. “Like if that wasn’t there, I would feel so liberated and feel like myself. When I tell them how I feel it’s like they hear me but they’re really not listening. They’re hearing what they want to hear.”
Since 2019, attention has shifted towards conservatorship abuse when Britney Spears canceled her Las Vegas residency, citing her father’s health issues as the reason, only for fans to find out she was in a “voluntary” mental health facility. Her co-conservator, lawyer Andrew Wallace, relinquished his role in the contract one month prior.
“The conservatee’s business activities have greatly accelerated due to her increased well-being and her capacity to be more engaged in furthering her career activities,” Wallace said.
— bettemidler (@BetteMidler) February 7, 2021
Previously, Jamie Spears was making 1.5% of his daughter’s gross income of approximately $1 million per week. When #FreeBritney came to light, he denounced the “conspiracy theorists,” while her mother, Lynne Spears liked social media comments in support of the fan-lead movement.
In August 2020, Britney Spears’ current lawyer, Samuel D. Ingham III, released a statement regarding her wishes to have the bank or a professional and qualified conservator take over. “Britney herself is vehemently opposed to this effort by her father to keep her legal struggle hidden away in the closet as a family secret,” Ingham said.
This resulted in the court’s November 2020 decision to appoint Bessemer Trust as co-conservator of the singer’s finances alongside Jamie Spears.
The AARP references a 2010 federal report by the Government Accountability Office, where hundreds of allegations of abuse and financial exploitation were found in the United States by conservator guardians. Further, in merely 20 of those cases, conservators were found to have stolen “$5.4 million in assets from 158 incapacitated victims, many of whom were seniors.”
While the legal battle for Britney Spears, who is described by Ingham as a “high-functioning conservatee,” is ongoing, the star is keeping high spirits on her social media. On Feb. 9, 2021, she posted a 2018 performance of her hit song, “Toxic,” with an optimistic yet cryptic caption.
“I am taking time to learn and be a normal person,” she said in the post. “Remember, no matter what we think we know about a person’s life is nothing compared to the actual person living behind the lens.” The post came one day after her longtime boyfriend, Sam Asghari’s, Instagram story rebuttal towards Jamie Spears and the conservatorship. “In my opinion, Jamie is a total [expletive],” Asghari said. “I won’t be going into details because I’ve always respected our privacy but at the same time, I didn’t come to this country to not be able to express my opinion and freedom.”
Ex-boyfriend, Justin Timberlake, has also been a target for scrutiny since the release of Framing Britney, as he contributed to the misogynistic and toxic culture that assisted in tearing her down. On Feb. 12, he issued an apology via his social media. “I specifically want to apologize to Britney Spears and Janet Jackson, both individually, because I care for and respect these women and I know I failed,” Timberlake said in the post.
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The controversy surrounding conservatorships remains up in the air. A call for reformations to the legal aspect is necessary to fully benefit those like Britney Spears who are mentally and physically sound enough to work and make their own decisions yet are bound in a contract by those taking advantage of them.
Since the release of the documentary, the court case, and petition to remove Jamie Spears as her financial conservator has been reopened. On Feb. 11, the judge denied his objections to the handlings of his daughter’s finances, when he cited a loss of power to Bessemer Trust. While the court decided the two have equal power in the delegations, it was a small victory for Britney Spears.