Britney Wants Her Life Back - And Why Not?

Em Unravelling
Britney SpearsReuters/BBC

Britney Spears is about my age. I have always kept half an eye on her career since her song "Baby One More Time" popped onto my TV screen one bright school morning and changed the pop landscape as any of us knew it.

So it is somehow even more unbelievable to me that for the past 13 years - years during which she has been working, releasing music, performing live, and making a lot of dollars - she has been unable, at any point, to make any of her own decisions about her money or circumstances.

Britney, whose public meltdowns and outbursts in the early 2000s have since become legendary examples of a young star's response to press harassment and to extreme circumstances and scrutiny that girls of her age at the time are always ill-equipped to cope with, was the subject in 2008 of a court order granting her father Jamie Spears the right to be her "conservator". That is to say, he was formally awarded control not only of her financial assets but also of her "person".

The system is slightly different in the UK, but as a UK lawyer, I have a reasonably good understanding of it, and over here we would separate the two strands of legal protection into "health and welfare" and "property and finance". It is very unusual for this sort of legal arrangement to be made for someone without a diagnosis of true cognitive impairment, such as dementia or the after-effects of a stroke. (I believe that it's similarly rare in the US, although Rosamund Pike's scary film about it - I Care A Lot - did give me slight pause on that).

In 2019, Britney's father stepped down as conservator of her person and was replaced by a care professional - a situation that Britney has requested be made permanent. But he remains a conservator of her financial estate and various formal and informal investigations, including one by the New York Times, have demonstrated that Britney herself feels her father is far too controlling of her life and that the conservatorship is not always used in her best interests.

This week, Britney has made her clearest plea yet to have her "controlling" father removed as a custodian of her affairs. Yesterday (Wednesday) she spoke via a telephone link to Judge Brenda Penny in Los Angeles Superior Court, saying that she is traumatized, cries every day, and "just wants her life back". No ruling was made, though, and there's likely to be a long legal process before anything can be done.

But why shouldn't Britney have her father removed as conservator if she no longer wishes to have him in the role? According to all reports, she doesn't want the deal to end completely. She just wants a professional to make the decisions, not her father, who she believes does not have her best interests at heart.

Whether or not she has psychiatric issues that might at times affect her judgment, right now she seems cogent and capable of making this small decision about who her conservator should be. It feels very unfair to me that she has to continue in a court-mandated relationship with someone she does not wish to be involved so deeply with her life, and I hope there's a happy ending for this story before too long.

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A lover of horizons, hills, and words. Likes to write about uncomfortable things because too many people steer round those parts of life.


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