For more than 13 years, pop star Britney Spears was under the conservatorship of her father James P. Spears (also known as Jamie Spears). But after a complicated and highly publicized battle, he finally agreed to step aside on August 12, 2021.
Under the terms of the conservatorship that went into place in 2008, Britney’s father in essence held all legal responsibility over her, including managing all of her personal and financial affairs. Under the court proceeding, typical conservatees are usually elderly, according to The Wall Street Journal, while those who are younger tend to be “beset by emotional disturbances, mental disorders or physical impairments.”
Over the years, the conservatorship over the pop star was repeatedly extended, keeping her father in charge of her $60 million estate. But questions about whether the arrangement was truly in her best interest kept coming up, eventually giving way to the #FreeBritney movement. Fans rallied behind the singer for years in a long-fought journey that finally allowed Britney to live life on her own terms, legally. Here, we take a look at how it all went down.
February 2007: Britney makes headlines for offbeat behavior
The mom of two young sons — Sean Preston Federline, born in 2005, and Jayden James Federline, born in 2006 — was a regular in the headlines, not just for her party-girl ways, but also for her erratic behavior, from confronting a photographer with an umbrella to shaving her head.
January 2008: She’s hospitalized and held for mental evaluation twice
Following a custody dispute with ex-husband Kevin Federline, Britney was taken to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles for testing and a psychiatric evaluation (also known as a 5150 hold), before being released. Later in the month, she was taken to University of California Los Angeles Medical Center for the same hold.
February 1, 2008: Britney’s father files for conservatorship
While she was still in psychiatric care, a Los Angeles court granted Jamie Spears “temporary conservatorship,” granting him control of her home and other liquid assets. An attorney, Andrew Wallet, shared the control with Jamie.
February 6, 2008: Britney’s parents release a statement
After Britney was released from the hospital, her parents, Jamie and Lynne Spears, released a statement reading, “We are deeply concerned about our daughter’s safety and vulnerability and we believe her life is presently at risk. There are conservatorship orders in place created to protect our daughter that are being blatantly disregarded. We ask only that the court’s orders be enforced so that a tragedy may be averted.” After several extensions, the conservatorship was set to expire at the end of the year.
October 28, 2008: The conservatorship is extended again — with no end date
The arrangement was extended yet again—this time, indefinitely—with a court officer saying it can last a lifetime. “The conservatorship is necessary and appropriate for the complexity of financial and business entities and her being susceptible to undue influence,” judge Reva Goetz said. The conservatorship details were explained to Britney, who was 26 at the time, and she reportedly “agreed not to oppose it.”
November 30, 2008: Britney alludes to the arrangement like being in “jail”
MTV released a documentary called Britney: For the Record. “The way I feel, it’s like they hear me but they’re really not listening,” she said of her life being “too in control,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. “When you go to jail, there’s always the time that you know that you’re going to get out… It’s just like Groundhog Day every day.”
April 25, 2012: Jason Trawick, Britney’s fiancé at the time, is added as a co-conservator
After Jamie put in a request earlier in the month, Britney’s fiancé Jason Trawick was officially added as a co-conservator. The pair had been dating since 2009, and Trawick could now control Britney’s decisions on everything from food and clothing to medical care—but not her assets. “This is a very unusual situation, because generally you don’t see conservatees get married,” attorney Jeffrey S. Cohen, who wasn’t involved with the case, told People.
September 27, 2016: Britney reportedly addresses the conservatorship
Based on a report from a PopCrush contributor who was in the audience of The Jonathan Ross Show, Britney addressed the situation head-on for the first time, while promoting her album Glory. “Okay, so I have this conservatorship. I’ve been under this conservatorship for three years and I felt like a lot of decisions were made for me, so I wanted [Glory] to be my baby and I’ve been really strategic about it,” she reportedly said. The quote was cut when the show aired.
January 4, 2019: The performer announces a work hiatus
“I don’t even know where to start with this, because this is so tough for me to say. I will not be performing my new show Domination,” Britney posted on Twitter. “However, it’s important to always put your family first…and that’s the decision I had to make. A couple of months ago, my father was hospitalized and almost died. We’re all so grateful that he came out of it alive, but he still has a long road ahead of him.” Following this announcement, attorney Wallet also resigned, getting out of the co-conservatorship.
April 2019: Britney goes through treatment at a mental health facility
Britney entered a mental health facility and was later taken home by her boyfriend, Sam Asghari. “It was her decision to leave, but she will still be monitored from home,” a source told E! News at the time. Though the roots of the #FreeBritney movement had long been planted, this incident riled up the followers, who even protested for her release from the treatment facility.
May 10, 2019: Britney attends conservatorship hearing with her mom
Holding hands with her mom Lynne, Britney attended her annual hearing, with a source telling CNN that she requested to end her conservatorship. Earlier that week, Lynne had filed to be kept abreast of Britney’s medical conditions.
September 5, 2019: Jamie temporarily steps back as conservator
Citing “personal health reasons,” Jamie relinquished control to Britney’s caretaker Jodi Montgomery. Among the rights given to Montgomery was the ability to restrict and limit visitors, except for Britney’s court-appointed lawyer Samuel D. Ingham III.
August 17, 2020: The conservatorship is extended into 2021
Papers were filed saying Britney did not want her father to be her conservator anymore, preferring to make Montgomery, who was still temporary, her permanent one. Two days later, her conservatorship was extended until February 1, 2021.
September 3, 2020: Britney acknowledges the #FreeBritney movement
Britney nodded to the public’s interest by filing an objection to her father constantly sealing details of the cases — this time a case to put himself and Wallet back in charge. “Britney’s conservatorship has attracted an unprecedented level of scrutiny from mainstream media and social media alike,” the filing read. “Far from being a conspiracy theory or a ‘joke,’ as James 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.” The filing also included, “The world is watching.” She also asked a wealth management company, Bessemer Trust, to serve as her estate’s conservator.
November 10, 2020: Britney refuses to perform as long as her dad is conservator
Britney’s lawyer said she wouldn’t perform as long as Jamie was a conservator, adding “My client has informed me that she is afraid of her father,” NBC News reported. The judge didn’t remove Jamie, but did add Bessemer Trust as a co-conservator.
February 5, 2021: ‘Framing Britney Spears’ documentary debuts
A documentary from The New York Times sparked the public’s interest in Britney’s struggle even more, as the #FreeBritney movement reached new heights.
March 23, 2021: The star petitions for Montgomery as conservator
Ingham filed to take out Jamie completely and give full conservatorship to caretaker Montgomery.
April 27, 2021: Britney asks to address the court
Perhaps in the simplest statement yet, Ingram stated at the Los Angeles Superior Court, “Britney wants to address the court directly.”
June 23, 2021: Britney makes a plea in court
In a 24-minute passionate statement to the court, the 39-year-old opened the lens on the life she’d been living for the last 13 years. “I just want my life back,” she said. “I’m not here to be anyone’s slave.” She also said, “I’m traumatized … I’m not happy, I can’t sleep,” and added, “I’m so angry. And I’m depressed. I cry every day.” Though the judge had said the session could not be recorded or live-tweeted, it went viral quickly — and the audio attendance program was ended five days later.
July 1, 2021: Bessemer Trust requests to resign from conservatorship
After hearing Britney’s words, the wealth management company bowed out. “Petitioner has become aware that the Conservatee objects to the continuance of her Conservatorship and desires to terminate the Conservatorship,” a court filing stated. “Petitioner has heard the Conservatee and respects her wishes.”
July 6, 2021: Her court-appointed lawyer resigns
Though Ingham had worked with her for 13 years, he was assigned by the court and Britney expressed a desire to choose her own lawyer. He said he would step aside as soon as she had secured new representation. One possible reason was that she was unaware she could ask for the conservatorship to be over. “I didn’t know I could petition the conservatorship to end it. I’m sorry for my ignorance, but I honestly didn’t know that,” Britney said, according to Newsweek.
July 14, 2021: Britney hires her own lawyer
A judge ruled that the pop star could hire her own lawyer, and she chose Mathew S. Rosengart, a former federal prosecutor and well-known Hollywood lawyer.
July 20, 2021: A Bipartisan FREE Act is introduced
Inspired by Britney’s emotional testimony, Florida Democrat Charlie Crist and South Carolina Republican Nancy Mace of the House of Representatives introduced the FREE act, which stands for Freedom and Right to Emancipate from Exploitation Act, making it easier for people to ask a judge to replace a private guardian or conservator.
July 23, 2021: Britney asks for the conservatorship to end
Rosengart filed to end the conservatorship, calling it a “Kafkaesque nightmare” in the document.
August 9, 2021: A request to move up the hearing is denied
Judge Brenda Penny denied a request from Rosengart to move the hearing from September 29 to August 23.
August 12, 2021: Jamie Spears agrees to step down as conservator
In the biggest move yet in Britney’s favor, her father agreed to step down as conservator, with no timeline in place. Yet he still didn’t completely agree. “There are, in fact, no actual grounds for suspending or removing Mr. Spears as the Conservator of the Estate,” court documents obtained by CNN stated. “It is highly debatable whether a change in conservator at this time would be in Ms. Spears’ best interests.” But he did agree to stepping back and acknowledged the public’s pressure. “Nevertheless, even as Mr. Spears is the unremitting target of unjustified attacks, he does not believe that a public battle with his daughter over his continuing service as her conservator would be in her best interests,” the documents said.
The following month, her father filed a petition to end the arrangement.