On June 23, Britney Spears told a Los Angeles probate court how she really feels about the conservatorship that’s ruled her life for the past 13 years. In her own words, she’s “done” with the “abusive” arrangement that has granted her father and various attorneys full control over her finances, her career, and her person since 2008 — even as her albums, world tours, TV gigs, and performances keep these legal guardians on her payroll. The contradiction is not lost on Britney, who argued that it “makes no sense” for her to “make a living for so many people” who in turn decide how she gets to live.
“I just want my life back,” she told California Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny. “All I want is to own my money, for this to end, and my boyfriend to drive me in his fucking car.”
At a hearing on November 12, Judge Penny officially ended Britney’s conservatorship, saying it was “no longer required, effective immediately.” The decision to restore her freedom and independence was met with joy from #FreeBritney activists and Britney herself, who called the termination “the best day ever.” Yet legal proceedings continue — as does the fallout with Jamie Spears and all those involved. Here’s a guide to the various players and what happens next:
Jamie Spears assumed the role of financial and personal conservator when he enacted the guardianship in 2008. Though he relinquished control of Britney’s personal life to Jodi Montgomery — a licensed, private fiduciary appointed as conservator of Britney’s person — two years ago, he remained in charge of her finances until he was suspended on September 29.
The singer has painted her father as a driving force behind her misery, informing the court in July: “I want to press charges against my father today.” In the media, Jamie has been cast as an aggressive stage parent constantly leveraging his daughter’s talent for personal gain — “I am Britney Spears!” he reportedly bellowed during an early conservatorship meeting — a charge he denies.
On June 29, he requested that Penny open an investigation into the “serious allegations” raised in his daughter’s testimony that month — presumably including the assertion that he had forced her into a labor situation that she compared to “trafficking.” He subsequently filed court documents alleging that Montgomery told him Britney was “mentally sick” and needed to be put on a 5150 psychiatric hold. (Montgomery characterized this as an extreme misrepresentation of her words.) Then, one week later, Jamie made what looked, on the surface, like a significant concession: In a court filing from August 12, his attorney said the singer’s father intended to resign “when the time is right.” Emphasizing that Jamie did not believe any valid grounds existed for his removal, the filing granted that he would resign if the transition was “orderly.” Britney’s attorney, Mathew Rosengart, subsequently accused Jamie of trying to “extort” $2 million from his daughter in exchange for his departure.
All of which is to say, his request to end the conservatorship altogether — and without making Britney undergo another psychiatric evaluation — came as a huge surprise. In a court filing from September 7, Jamie acknowledged many of the points Britney aired leading up to the termination, concluding that she “is entitled to have this Court now seriously consider whether this conservatorship is no longer required.”
On September 29, Judge Penny ruled to suspend Jamie from his role as conservator, a decision that marked a huge step toward Britney’s freedom. “The current situation is not tenable,” the judge ruled, per the New York Times — a decision that displeased Jamie. His then-attorney, Vivian L. Thoreen, called it “disappointing, and frankly, a loss for Britney.” Confusingly, he filed again for the arrangement’s wholesale termination on November 1, with an attorney stating that “Britney’s recent testimony and requests to take personal control of her estate and affairs have made clear that continuing the conservatorship is contrary to her desires.” Judge Penny apparently agreed and ruled to end the conservatorship at a November 12 hearing.
At a financial hearing on December 8, Judge Penny granted Britney the ability to execute her own financial documents in relation to the estate, a power Jamie had held since 2008. On December 15, Jamie filed court documents asking for Britney to continue paying his legal fees, arguing that he should be paid because he’s working to help wind down the conservatorship so “Britney can take control of her life as she and Jamie desire.” Rosengart has called the request an “abomination,” telling Vulture the petition is “legally meritless” and “shameful.”
“This is not what a father who loves his daughter does,” Rosengart said.
Britney’s legal counsel
On July 6, Britney’s court-appointed attorney — Samuel D. Ingham III, who has represented her since the conservatorship was put into place — filed a petition to resign. The move seemed in line with his client’s stated wish to choose her own attorney, but her testimony also raised questions about who Ingham really served. Britney told Judge Penny that she “didn’t know [she] could petition the conservatorship to be ended” until relatively recently, and that Ingham discouraged her from speaking out sooner. Then, the New York Times reported that Ingham’s advocacy for Britney seemed spotty at best — suspicious, considering the $3 million he has made off her case since 2008.
On July 14, Judge Penny approved the appointment of Britney’s current counsel, Matthew Rosengart. A former federal prosecutor and one of the Hollywood Reporter’s top 100 “power lawyers” for 2021, Rosengart has a long list of celebrity clients, including but not limited to Ben Affleck, Steven Spielberg, Sean Penn, and Winona Ryder.
Having accomplished his first order of business — getting Jamie to resign — Rosengart currently seeks to have him investigated. Rosengart has alleged that Jamie “corrupted” the conservatorship and that he took up to $4 million from Britney’s estate. Jamie has continued to deny these allegations and has repeatedly “refused” to appear for deposition under oath. Rosengart also seeks to investigate Tri Star, Britney’s former management group. Tri Star and its owner, Louise Taylor (a close connection of the Spears family, and Britney’s former manager), have been accused of mishandling Britney’s money for personal benefit. Like Jamie, they have also evaded Rosengart’s requests, including revealing how much they have taken from Britney’s estate.
Britney’s professional conservators
On July 1, Bessemer Trust — a private wealth-management firm that, along with her dad, Jamie Spears, oversaw Britney’s finances — asked to exit the arrangement “immediately.” The request came days after Bessemer’s official appointment as co-conservator, and it cited “changed circumstances”: Jeff Glowacki, a managing director at the bank, said that when Ingham asked Bessemer to come onboard, he described the conservatorship as “voluntary.” After hearing otherwise from Britney, Bessemer backed out.
Meanwhile, Montgomery has insisted (through her attorney) that she “has been a tireless advocate for Britney and for her well-being,” and “unlike family members who serve as conservators, is required to follow a Code of Ethics.” Montgomery denied blocking Britney from getting married and having more children, an accusation the pop star leveled against her conservators in court in June. She expressed a desire to stay on as a conservator and requested a security detail, citing the high volume of threats she says she has received since Britney’s June court date.
Another family member who has opinions on the conservatorship: Lynne Spears, Britney’s mom. Lynne says she’s been involved in the conservatorship since May 2019, stepping in during what she called a “time of crisis” when Jamie forced Britney to enter medical treatment. In July court documents obtained by Entertainment Tonight, she indicated that the conservatorship had not served Britney’s “best interests.”
On July 6, Lynne filed a petition asking Judge Penny to authorize her daughter’s immediate “appointment of independent counsel,” arguing that “[Britney] can care for her person” now. She has earned “literally hundreds of millions of dollars as an international celebrity,” the filing noted, and “her capacity is certainly different today than it was in 2008.”
Lynne also backed Britney’s request to remove Jamie from the conservatorship. In a signed declaration submitted to the court on July 22, Lynne said Jamie has maintained “absolute control over [Britney’s] money and her health-care decisions,” noting that the relationship between Britney and her father has “dwindled to nothing but fear and hatred.” According to Lynne, Jamie kept Britney under close scrutiny, even asking household staff and security detail “to inform on and report back to him each and every detail of every action that takes place in [Britney’s] home.”
She also echoed Britney’s claim that Jamie encouraged Britney to submit herself to a medical facility “against her wishes” and “was threatened with punishment if she did not stay for medical treatment that she did not want to endure.” She went on to describe Jamie’s control over their daughter as “exhausting and terrifying,” saying that Britney was subject to Jamie’s “constant threats and his decision-making over all aspects of her life.”
Lynne does not hold an official position within the conservatorship, but in a November 2 Instagram post, Britney said her mother and her former business manager Lou Taylor had been complicit. “What people don’t know is that my mom is the one who gave him the idea,” she said in the caption, according to the BBC. (The post has since been deleted.) “I will never get those years back … she secretly ruined my life,” Britney reportedly wrote, adding, “My dad is not smart enough to ever think of a conservatorship.”
What happens next?
Jamie’s behavior while acting as conservator has come under further scrutiny thanks to recent documentaries on the conservatorship. Controlling Britney Spears, a follow-up to the investigation the New York Times and FX dropped in February, delves into the elaborate surveillance machine Jamie allegedly architected to monitor his daughter. Jamie’s attorney claimed his actions were undertaken with Britney’s “knowledge and consent.” (Taylor and Tri Star, who also face scrutiny, have denied the surveillance allegations.) Yet Rosengart believes the reports merit serious investigation. During the September 29 hearing, he reiterated that belief, describing the choice to “eavesdrop on her most intimate communications with children, boyfriend, and lawyer” as “unfathomable,” according to one reporter who attended the hearing.
While Judge Penny has granted Britney the right to oversee her own finances, Rosengart’s replacement conservator of Britney’s finances — John Zabel, a certified public accountant — will continue in his limited role until a new hearing on January 19.
For her part, Britney has been increasingly vocal against those who were complicit in her conservatorship. “It still blows my mind every day I wake up how my family and the conservatorship were able to do what they did to me,” she said in an Instagram post following the conservatorship termination. “It was demoralizing and degrading. I’m not even mentioning all the bad things they did to me which they should all be in jail for.” At the time, she wrote that she was used to “keeping my mouth shut” — “but not this time.”
This article has been updated.