The documentary Framing Britney Spears investigates the controversial conservatorship that controls Britney Spears's entire life, and it's complicated to say the least. For over a decade, her father, Jamie Spears, has essentially had total legal control of her life despite the #FreeBritney movement supporting her efforts to regain control. Here's what you need to know about how the conservatorship came to be and what's been happening in recent years.
When Did the Conservatorship Over Britney Spears Begin?
Back in 2008, Britney suffered what appeared to be a very public breakdown, and, following a series of odd behaviors, she was placed on a psychiatric hold at a Los Angeles hospital for an evaluation. At that time, her father petitioned for "temporary" conservatorship, arguing that Britney was in no state to care for herself and the matters of her life. The conservatorship granted him the legal right to oversee and control most aspects of her life, from her health and business decisions to her personal life. According to a 2016 New York Times report, that control and scrutiny covers every detail, from buying a cup of coffee to testifying in court.
Why Is Britney Opposed to Jamie Spears Acting as a Conservator?
In September 2019, People reported that he was temporarily stepping down from his role as conservator, but intended to return; the decision came after reports that he had allegedly had a verbal and physical altercation with Britney's teenage son, Sean, and that Sean's father, Kevin Federline, had filed a restraining order against Jamie. At the time, Jodi Montgomery, a licensed conservator, assumed the role from Jamie.
Recently, more information has come to light about Britney's strong opposition to her father returning to his role as conservator. In August 2020, People reported that she made a court filing to that effect, requesting that Montgomery continue permanently as conservator and that a "qualified corporate fiduciary" be appointed as conservator of her estate, rather than her father. "We are now at a point where the conservatorship must be changed substantially in order to reflect the major changes in her current lifestyle and her stated wishes," her lawyer stated in the filing.
In September 2020, Us Weekly reported that Britney requested the court case be open to the public, going against her father's wishes to keep it sealed. "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," the filing said in part. It also acknowledged the #FreeBritney movement and suggested that Britney, at least in part, agrees. "Far from being a conspiracy theory or a 'joke' as James reportedly told the media, in large part this scrutiny [on social media] is a reasonable and even predictable result of James' aggressive use of the sealing procedure over the years to minimize the amount of meaningful information made available to the public. Whatever merits his strategy might have had years ago when Britney was trying to restart her career, at this point in her life when she is trying to regain some measure of personal autonomy, Britney welcomes and appreciates the informed support of her many fans."
What's Going on With the Conservatorship Now?
Only months later, in November 2020, Britney formally moved to permanently remove her father as co-conservator of her estate. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny denied the request, despite Britney's insistence, through her lawyer, that she feared her father and did not wish to perform while he was in charge of her affairs.
Britney's siblings have also become involved. On the As NOT Seen on TV podcast in 2020, her brother, Bryan, revealed Britney had wanted her freedom for some time: "She's always wanted to get out of it. It's very frustrating to have. Whether someone's coming in peace to help or coming in with an attitude, having someone constantly tell you to do something has got to be frustrating. She's wanted to get out of it for quite some time."
Her sister, Jamie Lynn, on the other hand, has now gotten involved in the legal side of Britney's life. In August 2020, at the request of Jamie Spears and co-conservator Andrew Wallet, Jamie Lynn was named trustee of Britney's estate, meaning that, in the event of Britney's death, Jamie Lynn — not Britney's sons — would inherit her estate.
How Likely Is It Britney Spears's Conservatorship Will End?
Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like #FreeBritney will be happening anytime soon.
"The conservatee can't wake up one morning and say, 'I don't need this, I don't want it. Make it go away,'" notes Vivian Thoreen, a lawyer involved with Jamie Spears's legal team for the conservatorship, in the documentary. "A petition to end the conservatorship would have to be filed. And then there's got to be evidence or some demonstration that a conservatorship is not necessary at that point in time. It's the conservatee who has the burden of saying, 'I don't need a conservatorship anymore, and here's why.'" She adds that, in her experience, she's never seen a conservatee successfully end a conservatorship.