Britney Spears has dominated headlines since 1999. The Princess of Pop’s highs and lows have been endlessly dissected by fans and the media, from her cryptic smash hits to her infamous public breakdown in 2007. Now it’s Britney Spears’ conservatorship and the #FreeBritney movement that’s center stage, with the 2021 New York Times documentary Framing Britney taking a deep dive into the legal saga. And so #FreeBritney, once an online hashtag for the most devoted of fans, is back in the public eye.
In the latest developments in this legal saga, The New York Times unleashed confidential court reports revealing that Spears privately pushed to end the conservatorship as early as 2014 because she was reportedly “sick of being taken advantage of.” The telling report came just one day before a June 23 hearing, during which the public heard Spears speak out against the conservatorship for the first time. “I just want my life back,” she said. “It's been 13 years and it's enough.”
On July 14, Spears continued to speak out in her next hearing, even saying she wants to charge her conservator, father Jamie Spears, with conservatorship abuse. “If this is not abuse, I don't know what is,” she told a judge, who also granted Spears permission to hire her own lawyer. Spears celebrated the progress in her legal case by using the #FreeBritney hashtag for the first time on social media.
On Sept. 7, Spears got closer to freedom than ever when Jamie filed a petition to end the conservatorship for good. However, it’s unclear whether Spears’ legal arrangement will actually end anytime soon, as Judge Brenda Penny will decide how to move forward in the next hearing on Sept. 29. The legal intricacies and fan theories on Spears’ situation can be tough to sort through. So to help you figure out what's true and what's merely the stuff of speculation, we've broken down everything you need to know about #FreeBritney and Spears’ conservatorship.
How Does Britney Spears’ Conservatorship Work?
Spears has been under what's known as a conservatorship since 2008, after the singer's tumultuous public breakdown. Basically, this means that she does not have control over her legal or business affairs. According to a 2016 report from The New York Times, Spears cannot make key personal or financial decisions without the approval of her conservators, her father, Jamie Spears, and lawyer Andrew M. Wallet. Despite fan speculation of what the singer is and isn't allowed to do on her own terms, the exact terms and restrictions of her conservatorship have never been made public.
Aside from the conservatorship essentially taking away much of Spears' autonomy, a major point of contention for fans is how Jamie has profited financially as her conservator. According to The Times, not only did he take a $130,000 salary for his job, he was also awarded 1.5% of the gross revenues from her performances and merchandise sales connected to her Las Vegas residency, Britney: Piece of Me, despite his daughter being the one to put in work on stage.
The terms of Spears' conservatorship changed in September 2019, when Jamie requested to step down as her conservator “due to personal health reasons,” People reported, following an alarming alleged physical altercation with Spears' son Sean Preston, then 13. Wallet had previously stepped down from her case that March. The singer's longtime “care manager,” Jodi Montgomery, was temporarily approved to take over, but fans want more than just her father stepping down — they don't want anyone making decisions for Spears but herself.
In July 2020, Spears’ mother Lynne has filed paperwork asking for more involvement in her daughter's finances, requesting to receive notice on “all matters” concerning a trust that's in place to protect the singer's assets and secure her two sons' futures, according to ET. And in May 2019, she specifically requested special notice about Spears' conservatorship without specifying why, making it clear she's also concerned about her daughter's situation.
According to USA Today, as of July 2021, Jamie still had control over Spears' finances, with Montgomery in charge of overseeing her “security, visitors, and medical and psychiatric treatment.” Per The Times, the court appointed a lawyer, Samuel D. Ingham III, to review the terms of the conservatorship and act in Spears' interest. In November 2020, a judge approved Bessemer Trust Company, a independent financial institution suggested by Spears in a court filing, to act as co-conservator of Spears’ estate alongside Jamie. However, the organization backed out of the agreement after Spears’ June 23 hearing, leaving Jamie in charge for now.
What Does Britney Spears Think Of Her Conservatorship?
Prior to her landmark court hearing, Spears herself had rarely spoken of the conservatorship publicly. In her 2008 documentary, Britney: For the Record, she didn't specifically mention the conservatorship but did seem to be frustrated with her new situation. “I think it’s too in control,” she said. “If I wasn’t under the restraints I’m under, I’d feel so liberated. Even when you go to jail, you know there’s the time when you’re going to get out. But in this situation, it’s never-ending.”
However, on June 22, The New York Times released confidential court reports that indicated Spears privately pushed to end the conservatorship for much longer than fans had thought. In a 2016 report, a court investigator assign to her case wrote that Spears apparently felt the system had “too much control” over her life. “She articulated she feels the conservatorship has become an oppressive and controlling tool against her,” the report read. At the time, Spears reportedly told the investigator that she wanted the legal arrangement to end as soon as possible. “She is ‘sick of being taken advantage of’ and she said she is the one working and earning her money but everyone around her is on her payroll,” he wrote.
Thankfully, Spears finally got the chance to speak out publicly about the conservatorship in court, making it clear that she wanted the arrangement to come to an end. On June 23, Spears shared her concerns and frustrations to Judge Brenda Penny, confirming the alleged story that she was held at a mental health facility for weeks against her will in early 2019, which her conservators and management team approved. Since then, she’s only grown more frustrated with the control placed on her, which has affected her drastically. “I’ve lied and told the whole world, ‘I’m OK, and I’m happy’,” she said. "I’m not happy. I’m so angry. It’s insane. And I’m depressed. I cry every day.”
Under the conservatorship, Spears said she was forced to do a 2018 world tour despite wanting a break after Las Vegas residency Piece of Me, must attend therapy sessions at an office exposed to paparazzi, which threatens her privacy, and is not allowed to get married or have children, even being forced to wear an IUD for pregnancy prevention. “Basically, this conservatorship is doing me way more harm than good,” she said. “I just want my life back. It's been 13 years and it's enough. I truly believe this conservatorship is abusive.”
How Is Britney Spears’ Relationship With Her Father?
Spears has made it very clear that she doesn’t want her father Jamie Spears to be involved in her life in any capacity. According to court documents filed in August 2020, Spears is “strongly opposed” to having her father “return as conservator of her person.” She also no longer wants him to control her estate and finances — but instead prefers a “qualified corporate fiduciary” take on this role, per Variety, which Bessemer Trust was approved to do in November. However, on July 1, 2021, Bessemer Trust pulled out of the conservatorship completely, leaving Jamie as the sole conservator of Spears’ estate, a situation she was trying to avoid. According to TMZ, the financial institution became “gun-shy” over the controversy surrounding the conservatorship.
In March 2021, Spears officially “requested the resignation” of her father Jamie as her permanent conservator, and reiterated her preference of temporary caretaker Montgomery taking over in his place. According to PEOPLE, her court filing also states that Spears “reserves the right to petition for the termination of this conservatorship,” hinting that this step is something she may pursue, should Jamie step down entirely as Spears requests.
At the June 23 hearing, Spears made shocking relevations about how her father has allegedly treated her, comparing him to a sex trafficker and saying that he takes joy in having such strict control over her life. “I cried on the phone for an hour and he loved every minute of it,” she said, referring to a phone call where Jamie told her that she had to go stay at a mental health facility she didn’t want to attend on her own dime. “The control he had over someone as powerful as me, he loved the control to hurt his own daughter 100,000%. He loved it.”
During the latest hearing on July 14, Spears demanded her father’s removal as the conservator of her estate and said she wants him investigated. “I’m here to get rid of my dad and charge him with conservatorship abuse,” she said, according to NBC News. “This conservatorship has allowed my dad to ruin my life.” At one point, Spears told the court she thought her father and others dictating her conservatorship “were trying to kill me,” according to CNN. “If this is not abuse, I don't know what is,” she added.
The star opened up about how her issues with Jamie date back to her childhood, accusing her parents of leaving her alone in a trailer constantly and admitting she felt scared that would “show up drunk and embarrass her,” referencing his alleged issues with alcohol. She went on to describe more of the limitations Jamie has alleged opposed on her as conservator, including taking away her drivers license, coffee privileges, and “hair vitamins” at different points. In response, Jamie’s lawyer Vivian L. Thoreen said her client would not resign voluntarily and questioned the validity of Spears’ claims.
Prior to officially requesting his resignation, Spears indicated in court docs from September 2020 that she “strongly opposed” having her father remain her sole conservator, and even declared that she would never perform again as long as he was legally involved in her career. “My client has informed me that she is afraid of her father,” Ingham told the court in November 2020. “She will not perform again if her father is in charge of her career.” Unfortunately, her request was ultimately denied, though the judge did appoint Bessemer Trust to act as co-conservator of Spears’ estate, which is a step in the right direction.
Additionally, the court records released by NYT show that Spears questioned her father’s role in the conservatorship much earlier than 2019. In a hearing closed to the public, Ingram said his client reportedly wanted to explore the possibility of removing her father as conservator back in 2014, citing his reported drinking habits and other concerns, which amounted to a “shopping list” of grievances, according to her lawyer. Following the hearings, Spears’ new lawyer Mathew Rosengart formally filed a petition to remove Jamie as conservator of her estate, saying he had “serious questions concerning Mr. Spears's potential misconduct, including conflicts of interest, conservatorship abuse and the evident dissipation of Ms. Spears's fortune.”
Jamie’s lawyer Vivian L. Thoreen defended her client against in February 2021 during an interview with Good Morning America, claiming that he “saved Britney’s life” and her financial situation since the conservatorship was instated. When asked why Spears said she was “afraid” of her father, Thoreen simply said that Jamie loved her. “Like any other family, issues come up from time to time, but this in no way takes away from the love and support that they have for each other," she explained. When asked why he refused to step down, her answer was similar: “Jamie serves as Britney's conservator because he loves her.” And responding to Spears’ claims on June 23, Thoreen didn’t negate any of the singer’s statements, simply saying that Jamie “misses his daughter very much.”
How Did The #FreeBritney Movement Start?
Many fans have questioned the circumstances surrounding Spears' situation for a long time. In January 2019, Spears' planned second Las Vegas residency, Britney: Domination, was canceled a month before it was set to open. At the time, Spears attributed the decision to her father's declining health, but TMZ later reported in April of that same year that Spears had actually checked into a mental health facility for 30 days. Neither Spears nor her team commented on the reports, but her former manager Larry Rudolph confirmed them in a later interview with TMZ in May.
When Spears addressed the news on Instagram, fans noticed that the singer used a text emoticon in the caption instead of her usual barrage of emojis. This, plus conflicting media reports about Jamie's health condition, raised suspicions about her situation and who was posting for her at the time.
The movement truly gained momentum thanks to the podcast Britney's Gram, which quickly turned from a tribute to Spears' iconic Instagram page into a full-blown investigation of her situation and well-being. On April 16, 2019, hosts and Spears super-fans Tess Barker and Barbara Gray received an anonymous voicemail from a man claiming to be a paralegal who worked for one of Spears' lawyers. Barker and Grey said they validated his profession and believed him to be a credible source, but did not disclose his identity. The man claimed that fans' worst fears had come true, insinuating that Jamie was forcing his daughter to take unnecessary medications and claiming that Jamie pulled the plug on Domination when Spears refused to take her prescribed medication. The claims have not been publicly verified by Spears or another source. Bustle reached out to attorneys for both Spears and Jamie for comment, but did not receive a response.
According to this source, a January incident when Spears reportedly drove to In-N-Out without permission led Jamie to involuntarily check her in to a facility in mid-January, not April as was previously reported. Neither Spears nor her camp has commented on the allegations, and it is not publicly confirmed whether Spears is even prescribed medication, although her now-former manager Rudolph did tell TMZ that Domination was canceled in part because her "meds stopped working." But for fans who were concerned for her well-being, this was enough to start a movement.
What Is #FreeBritney Trying To Accomplish?
Since the jaw-dropping podcast investigation, fans have been using the #FreeBritney hashtag online to raise awareness about Spears' conservatorship, even going so far as to publicly speculate about how the singer might be restricted in her day-to-day life. There have been claims that Spears isn't in charge of her social media. Supporters of the #FreeBritney movement want the singer to be freed from the conservatorship, and for her to be able to make her own decisions — whether they be legal, financial, medical, or personal — without any outside interference. The online movement spilled over into real life on April 22, 2019, when fans staged a #FreeBritney rally outside West Hollywood City Hall.
After the conservatorship was instated in 2008, Spears released a new album, Circus, that December and embarked on a massive world tour just months later. Since then, she's been on two more tours, released three studio albums, served as judge on The X Factor, and completed her hugely successful, four-year Vegas residency. Fans argue that if she can handle those huge ventures, why isn't she capable of making the legal and financial decisions behind them?
What Does Britney Spears Think Of #FreeBritney?
Spears indirectly addressed the movement in April 2019, when she asked fans to stop spreading rumors and give her family privacy in an Instagram post. Similarly, her family and team have never directly commented on the movement or any allegations. But Spears' mom, Lynne, who divorced Jamie in 2002 and is not legally involved in her daughter's conservatorship, reportedly liked several posts with the hashtag, including an Instagram comment that read, “I really hope you are supporting Britney in trying to end this conservatorship. I really hope your ailing ex-husband isn’t keeping your daughter somewhere against her will,” as per Rolling Stone.
However, public support for #FreeBritney has only grown, with the hashtag being used by celebs like Paris Hilton, Miley Cyrus, and even Real Housewives Luann de Lesseps and Leah McSweeney. After Spears’ landmark court hearings, many of Spears’ peers spoke out in support of her, including ex-boyfriend Justin Timberlake, Mickey Mouse Club co-star Christina Aguilera, and frequent collaborator Madonna. Other stars that have since joined the #FreeBritney train include Cher, Ariana Grande, Sarah Jessica Parker, Mariah Carey, and Halsey, among others.
Finally, on July 14, Spears used the #FreeBritney hashtag in a post shared on Twitter and Instagram, thanking fans for sticking by her side during this contentious battle and affirming her gratitude for her fans’ online movement. “I feel GRATITUDE and BLESSED !!!!” she wrote. “Thank you to my fans who are supporting me ... You have no idea what it means to me be supported by such awesome fans !!!! God bless you all !!!!! Pssss this is me celebrating by horseback riding and doing cartwheels today !!!! #FreeBritney.”
In September 2020, Spears' lawyer seemed to express support for the movement while arguing that the conservatorship case should not be sealed from the public, as had been requested by Jamie. Though the lawyer didn't mention the movement by name, they responded to Jamie's earlier claims that the movement was a conspiracy theory. “Far from being a conspiracy theory or a ‘joke’ as [Jamie] reportedly told the media, in large part this scrutiny 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,” Spears' lawyer stated, per TMZ.
Does Britney Spears Run Her Own Social Media?
A huge component of the #FreeBritney movement is some fans' concerns that Spears has no control over her social media accounts and speculation that her Instagram posts may contain hidden warning signs or messages asking for help. In response to the rumors, Crowd Surf co-founder Cassie Petrey, who helps manage Spears' social media, clarified the singer's social media presence in an Instagram post on Wednesday, Feb. 3.
In her statement, Petrey clarified that Spears is the one who writes her captions, finds images and quotes online to share, and takes all of her own photos and videos for Instagram, including her iconic dance videos. Sometimes, Spears will request a video to be edited a certain way, which her team will follow, but otherwise, she also edits them herself. Like many celebrities, Spears does work with a social media team to manage her online presence, but Petrey says the singer always has the final say on what gets posted onto her Instagram.
“She has stated many times that she creates the posts, but people continue to believe conspiracy theories over what Britney says over and over again,” she wrote. “Britney is not ‘asking for help’ or leaving secret messages in her social media. She is literally just living her life and trying to have fun on Instagram.”
What Is Framing Britney Spears?
Framing Britney Spears is a documentary produced by the New York Times that attempts to unpack Spears' conservatorship and dissect the relationship between her and her father, Jamie. While the singer herself doesn't speak in the doc, nor do any of her family members, some close friends and team members have come forward to share their perspectives of what Spears is currently going through.
According to the outlet, participants include backup dancers, a lawyer currently working on the conservatorship, the record label executive who helped Spears rise to stardom, and former assistant and longtime family friend Felicia Culotta, a beloved figure among Spears' fans. Of course, the doc will also explore the #FreeBritney movement and shine light on the fans who believe Spears should be freed from her conservatorship. The New York Times Presents: Framing Britney Spears premiered on FX on Feb. 5 and is now streaming on Hulu.
What's Next For Britney Spears' Conservatorship?
As of September 2019, Spears has been under the care of Jodi Montgomery, her temporary conservator, after Jamie stepped down for personal health reasons. The conservatorship had been extended until Aug. 22, 2020, but, during a private hearing on Aug. 19, a judge ruled for the conservatorship to be extended until at least February 2021. It was extended once again in July 2021, meaning that Montgomery will stay on as her conservator until at least October.
On July 5, Spears’ former manager Larry Rudolph officially resigned, claiming that Spears has voiced her desire to permanently retire, despite the singer not expressing this herself in court or on social media. Just hours later, Spears’ court-appointed lawyer Ingham also resigned, after she claimed that the courts denied her the ability to hire her own legal counsel. On July 11, it was reported that Spears was in preliminary discussions with prominent Hollywood lawyer Mathew S. Rosengart to represent her. She officially retained Rosengart on July 14 after she was approved by Judge Penny to hire her own lawyer. That day, the judge told all attorneys to take Spears’ concerns seriously, but said a petition must be filed in court to end the conservatorship.
As promised, Rosengart has made a big push to end the arrangement, filing a petition to remove Jamie as the conservator of Spears’ estate on July 27, arguing that Spears’ father has “profitted handsomely” from the arrangement. A few days later, Jamie responding to the filing, saying he would step down and work with Rosengart “to prepare for an orderly transition to a new conservator.” However, he also fired back against his daughter’s claims, saying there were “no actual grounds” for removing him and questioning whether a new conservator “would be in Ms. Spears’ best interests.”
On Sept. 3, Rosengart accused Jamie of attempting to extort Spears in a court filing, saying that Jamie wanted to be paid over $2 million for legal fees, business expenses, and “media matters,” in addition to personal payments, before he stepped down as conservator of the estate. In an unexpected move, Jamie filed a petition to end the conservatorship completely on Sept. 7. “If Ms. Spears wants to terminate the conservatorship and believes that she can handle her own life, Mr. Spears believes that she should get that chance,” his lawyer wrote, suddenly saying what her fans have been arguing all along.
In response, Rosengart said the filing “represents a massive legal victory,” but accused Jamie of making this move in an attempt to dodge legal responsibility. “Mr. Spears believes he can try to avoid accountability and justice, including sitting for a sworn deposition and answering other discovery under oath, he is incorrect and our investigation into financial mismanagement and other issues will continue,” he said. Spears herself has yet to comment on the news via social media or otherwise.
While Spears made points her points clear in court, only additional hearings will determine the status of her situation. Spears’ next court hearing is currently scheduled for Sept. 29, 2021, when it will be decided whether Jamie will be removed as conservator of her estate, and likely where Jamie’s petition to end the conservatorship will be considered. Rosengart requested to move up the hearing to an earlier date, saying that Spears should “not be forced to continue to feel traumatized, lose sleep, and suffer further” while her father remains involved in her life. However, Judge Penny denied the request on Aug. 9. While there's no telling what will happen next, here's hoping that the results are to Spears' satisfaction — and only hers.
Additional reporting by Jessica Wang.
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