Updated: October 2, 2021 7:47:25 pm
A Los Angeles judge this week suspended Britney Spears’s father Jamie Spears from her 13-year court-mandated conservatorship. Judge Brenda Penny has also appointed public accountant John Zabel, nominated by Spears herself, to oversee her finances temporarily. This is being considered a huge win for the pop star and the fan-led #FreeBritney movement. On November 12, the judge will consider whether to end the conservatorship for good.
What is a conservatorship?
As per California law, a conservatorship, otherwise called guardianship, is a state of affairs wherein a judge “appoints a responsible person or organisation (called the ‘conservator’) to care for another adult (called the ‘conservatee’) who cannot care for himself or herself or manage his or her own finances.”
Britney had suffered a mental breakdown in 2008, prompting concerns over her mental health. The Los Angeles County Supreme Court ordered an emergency temporary conservatorship in February that year. Her dad was named conservator of Britney herself while he and attorney Andrew Wallet were declared co-conservators of her estate — as per Forbes, the 1981-born Spears has a fortune of at least $60 million.
On paper the idea is noble, to take care of somebody’s health, career and financial matters when they are not able to handle their affairs themselves due to a medical condition or some kind of physical or mental impairment.
What happened in Britney’s case?
Critics say the law can easily be misused due to lack of oversight, as happened in Britney’s case. Conservatorship grants the conservator absolute control over the conservatee’s life, right down to small details like medication, and until the conservatorship ends, the latter remains at the mercy of the former.
Several disability rights activists are denouncing the idea of conservatorships in general, alleging that it’s a downright extreme way to control a person, whatever the cause. Feminists activists have said Britney’s conservatorship is driven by a paternalistic notion that young women need their fathers to take care of them.
Also, conservatorship’s protraction until well over a decade in Britney’s case when the conservatee in the meantime has been judge on a reality show (2012’s The X Factor), successfully performed in concerts, and done several overseas tours. Britney clearly is not your typical conservatee.
It was only in June this year, during a public hearing, that Britney revealed the true nature of her situation. She also questioned the conservatorship law itself. “I shouldn’t be in a conservatorship if I can work and provide money and work for myself and pay other people. It makes no sense. The laws need to change,” she told the court.
As per a recent New York Times documentary, Controlling Britney Spears, Jamie hired a former employee of a security firm to monitor Britney’s phone calls and text messages. A listening device was also allegedly placed in her bedroom.
What happens next?
Britney Spears’ attorney Matthew Rosengart said at Wednesday’s hearing, “The conservatorship can and should be wound up and terminated promptly – ideally this fall… Britney Spears deserves to have her father out of her life as a conservator, today.”
But is it that simple? Usually, it is difficult to get out of a conservatorship, mainly because the presence of this arrangement implies the conservatee is incapable of taking major decisions about themselves. The termination process is often long and contentious and involves the presentation of evidence proving the cognitive and physical capability of the conservatee.
However, in Britney’s case, her father Jamie had himself surprisingly said he was willing to step down from the role. In a court filing on September 7, he also asked the court to end the conservatorship entirely.
If all goes well, and every party agrees upon termination, it may well be that Britney will be in charge of her own destiny once again before the year is out.
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