What is a conservatorship? Legal arrangement meaning, why Britney Spears had one and 'Free Britney' explained

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Britney Spears has been under a conservatorship since 2008 which has now been removed

The A-list popstar has been in a conservatorship for 13 years and the guardianship, controlled by her father Jamie Spears, has been brought to an end.

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Her struggle in attempting to stop the conservatorship launched the fan-led #FreeBritney campaign who were outside court.

But what exactly is a conservatorship, why was Britney Spears given one and what is the ‘Free Britney’ movement?

What is a conservatorship?

A conservatorship is an order in US courts which sees a parent or guardian granted control over the conservatee’s financial affairs and day-to-day life.

They are often granted in cases where the conservatee is unable to make decisions due to old age or extreme mental limitations.

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A conservatorship can enable the guardian to have full control over the conservatee’s finances and career decisions.

It also allows them to make personal decisions including whether the conservatee can get married.

Britney Spears. PIC: GettyBritney Spears. PIC: Getty
Britney Spears. PIC: Getty

Why does Britney Spears have a conservatorship?

The singer was given a conservatorship in 2008, following a struggle with mental health issues.

Britney showed public displays of erratic behaviour in 2007 following her divorce to Kevin Federline and after she lost custody of her children to her ex-husband.

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Spears had twice been admitted to hospital under a temporary psychiatric assessment ruling, with one visit coming after she had refused to hand over her children during a standoff with police.

She was then handed a temporary conservatorship from the courts in the late 2000s.

This conservatorship was later made permanent with her father being given guardianship over her finances and daily life decisions.

Jamie Spears’ lawyers recently told the court that he believed the conservatorship “was necessary to protect Britney in every sense of the word”.

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Britney’s conservatorship was split into two sections, with one section for her financial and estate affairs, and another section for her personal well being.

Her father had controlled both parts of the conservatorship until 2019, when he stepped down as her personal conservator citing health reasons, with a court-appointed care professional taking his place.

Jamie then stepped down as conservator of her financial affairs in 2021 and was replaced by an accountant chosen by Britney and her lawyer.

Why was Britney Spears trying to end her conservatorship?

The pop star had written to the court to ask them to terminate the order, with a hearing taking place to decide the future of her situation on November 12.

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Britney has previously described the conservatorship as “abusive”, claiming that she had been drugged against her will and forced to perform under the conservatorship controlled by her father.

Since being under the control of the conservatorship, she has released three albums, made television appearances - including a full-time gig as a judge on The X Factor US - and had also held a four-year residency in Las Vegas.

She also claimed that her father had prevented her from getting remarried and having more children.

Britney told the court in June 2021: "I want to be able to get married and have a baby. I was told right now in the conservatorship I am not able to get married and have a baby.

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"This conservatorship is doing me way more harm than good. I deserve to have a life."

What is the ‘Free Britney’ movement?

The #FreeBritney movement grew on social media after fans began to question why Spears was mentally capable enough to perform and make money under the conservatorship, but was not able to control her own decisions, despite her mental health improving.

Many fans have suggested that the conservatorship terms are not in the interests of Britney herself.

As a result of this, the rise of the #FreeBritney campaign gained traction on the internet, with fans also protesting outside the LA courthouse during each trial and hearing relating to her conservatorship.

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Fan outside an LA courthouse back the #FreeBritney movement. (Credit: Getty)Fan outside an LA courthouse back the #FreeBritney movement. (Credit: Getty)
Fan outside an LA courthouse back the #FreeBritney movement. (Credit: Getty) | Getty Images

Britney herself has backed the campaign, and has been pictured wearing #FreeBritney clothing in tribute to the fans who are campaigning on her behalf.

She took to Instagram to say: “#FreeBritney movement … I have no words … because of you guys and your constant resilience in freeing me from my conservatorship … my life is now in that direction. I cried last night for two hours cause my fans are the best and I know it … I feel your hearts and you feel mine … that much I know is true.”

What happened at the latest hearing?

Over the summer Britney Spears delivered bombshell courtroom testimony alleging the arrangement – which is usually reserved for the very ill or old – was abusive and deprived her of basic human rights such as getting married and having more children.

Spears’s explosive interventions were key in Friday’s momentous decision.

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Brenda J Penny, sitting at Los Angeles Superior Court, listened to 30 minutes of testimony before delivering her decision.

She added two caveats – specifying that an accountant serving as a temporary conservator should retain some powers – but the complex legal arrangement is “effective today… thereby terminated”.

Judge Penny cited California law as she made her decision and there was no dissent among the parties inside the packed courtroom or joining virtually – which included Spears’s parents, father Jamie and mother Lynne.

John Zabel, a certified public accountant, was appointed temporary conservator in September and retains two basic powers.

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He is able to transfer assets to the Spears estate and execute “supplemental” decisions on its behalf.

Mr Rosengart, who was applauded by fans of the singer as he entered the courtroom, ended the hearing by thanking the judge for allowing him to join the case in July.

News of the termination was met with wild celebrations by the dedicated #FreeBritney supporters who made their regular pilgrimage to gather outside court for the hearing.

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