Following a string of public struggles and rising concerns regarding substance abuse and mental health struggles, a California court appointed James P. Spears, Britney’s father, as the conservator of Britney’s personal affairs and estate in 2008. For more than a decade, Britney’s father has controlled his daughter’s financial steps and personal life.
According to the New York Times, which has heavily covered Britney’s conservatorship and its details, under the intricate arrangement, Britney’s conservators have control over everything from Britney’s mental health care to where she can travel. The setup also requires that the conservators are required to submit detailed accounts of her purchases to the court – including minor charges like $5 purchases at Sonic Drive-In or Target.
The effect of the arrangement ultimately placed the life, body, and career of one of contemporary history’s most celebrated pop stars in the hands of her father and other court-sanctioned conservators.
Britney has expressed disapproval of the arrangement for years. In a rare court appearance in June, Britney begged a Los Angeles judge to “get her life back.”
Earlier, in February 2021, Britney’s conservatorship regained national attention following the release of “Framing Britney Spears,” a documentary by the New York Times, which tells the story of the performer and the pressures placed around stardom, particularly the stresses that accompany stardom at an early age.
Fans have long vocalized their dissatisfaction with the conservatorship arrangement, using the #FreeBritney slogan and hashtag to mark the movement’s title. Fans, wary of the terms of the conservatorship, have been skeptical of the arrangement for years. Members behind the movement are wholeheartedly convinced that the terms substantially abuse Britney’s freedom and unjustly infringe upon Britney’s ability to make her own decisions. The #FreeBritney movement employs social media to bring awareness to the conservatorship and its discrepancies, as well as project Britney’s self-expressed dissatisfaction with the court-sanctioned arrangement.
Britney’s father James (more commonly known as “Jamie”), has expressed that the institution of the conservatorship was necessary to save Britney’s life and career, following her public struggles with mental health and substance abuse. In September 2019, Jamie stepped down as Britney’s personal and medical care conservator, citing health reasons. Two weeks prior, however, there had been a physical fight between Jamie and Britney’s 13-year-old son. While no charges were filed following the incident, Keven Federline, the child’s father, filed a restraining order against Jamie from seeing the children.
In August 2021, Jamie agreed to step down following a petition filed in court by Britney to remove Jamie. Britney has called the conservatorship abusive and has vowed not to perform if her father remained in charge. While Jamie initially denied the request to step down, a new filing by Jamie’s lawyers, as filed in Los Angeles probate court in August 2021 indicated that while “there were no actual grounds for suspending or removing” Jamie, he intended to “work with the court to assure “an orderly transition to a new conservator.”
According to TMZ, Britney’s lawyers recently made details regarding the conservatorship public. Britney, who is making efforts with court filings to have her father removed as one of the main conservators of her multi-million-dollar estate, aims to regain personal autonomy over her affairs. She expressed that she supports her fans speaking out on her behalf through the #FreeBritney movement.
What is a conservatorship?
Britney’s conservatorship was put in place following a series of erratic behaviors, from shaving her head to attacking a paparazzo’s car with an umbrella, which were all heavily covered and documented with the mainstream media. The performer was ultimately placed under a psychiatric hold for a mental health evaluation.
After her behavior, Jamie petitioned courts for an emergency “temporary” conservatorship, citing the fact that Britney was seemingly unable to properly care and manage herself amid her mental health and substance abuse struggles. The arrangement eventually became permanent, and Jamie was granted the legal right to make and oversee decisions regarding Britney’s health, finances, business deals, and personal life.
According to the New York Post, Mitch Winehouse, Amy Winehouse’s father, believes that had he fought for a conservatorship or custodianship arrangement or the like in the United Kingdom, his daughter Amy would still be alive today. For months prior to Amy’s death, Mitch looked up custodianships, or similar arrangements, after he carefully researched Jamie’s own arrangement for Britney. Friends of Mitch say that though Mitch learned that such arrangements are not permitted under UK law, he believes that such an arrangement would have saved his daughter’s life.
Florida Law and Conservatorships
Under Florida law, Britney’s arrangement would likely be known as a “guardianship.” While conservatorship arrangements do exist under Florida law, they are granted for persons who are deemed “absentees” under § 747 Florida statute.
In Florida, a person can file a petition for guardianship when a family member has become incapacitated due to a bodily injury or illness that has affected his or her judgment to make personal decisions. If the petition is granted by the court and the person is appointed the guardian of the person deemed incapacitated under Florida statute, then the person appointed guardian assumes specific duties and responsibilities regarding the financials and healthcare of the incapacitated person.
Similarly, a conservator typically has all the powers, rights, and duties of a guardian. But while guardians are appointed to oversee the legal and financial matters of an incapacitated person, conservators are appointed to oversee the legal and financial matters of absentees. Under Florida statute, a person is an “absentee” if they go missing or have disappeared without any explanation. Once a person is declared an absentee, the conservator is granted the right to oversee the legal and financial matters of the missing person, or “absentee.”
More specifically, under § 747.01 Florida Statutes, an “absentee” is any resident of Florida (or a person who owns property in the state of Florida) who has disappeared and is presumably dead or went missing due to their amnesia, mental derangement, or amnesia, or any other mental illness. Further, an absentee under Florida law can also include any person serving in or with the Armed Forces of the United States, in or with the Red Cross, in or with the Merchant Marine or otherwise, during any period when a state of hostilities exists between the United States and any other power and for 1 year thereafter, who has been reported as missing in action, captured by the enemy, or has been detained or besieged in a neutral country.
How To Petition for a Conservatorship under Florida Law
Under § 747.03 Florida Statute, a person who petitions for conservatorship must prove that they would have an interest in the property or estate of the absentee, were such absentee deceased. Any person who is dependent on said absentee for his or her maintenance or support may also have grounds to file a petition for conservatorship.
Such petition must include:
(1) the names, addresses, and ages of the spouse, children, mother, father, brothers, and sisters, or, if none of these is living, the next of kin of the absentee;
(2) the name, address, and age of any other person who would have an interest in the property or the estate of the absentee if he or she were deceased;
(3) the exact circumstances which cause the person missing to be an absentee under §747.01 of the Florida Statute, including the date he or she was first known to be missing, interned, beleaguered, etc.;
(4) the necessity for establishing a conservatorship;
(5) whether the person alleged to be an absentee has a will, and where such will, if in existence, is located; and
(6) a statement of all property constituting an asset of the alleged absentee’s estate or in which he or she has any interest as well as the approximate value of the interest.
While the court determines the validity of the petition, under Florida law, a court may appoint a guardian ad litem to make decisions in the interim for the absentee.
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