'Most Unique Conservatorship' Ever Shines a Light on Them All

Britney Spears' predicament has turned the nation's eye on the complexities of such legal arrangements
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 25, 2021 1:12 PM CDT
'Most Unique Conservatorship' Ever Shines a Light on Them All
A Britney Spears supporter holds a hand fan outside a court hearing concerning the pop singer's conservatorship on March 17, 2021, in Los Angeles.   (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)

It's been an intense week for both Britney Spears and her fans. The 39-year-old singer pleaded in court Wednesday for an end to her longtime conservatorship, saying she's been "traumatized" by the 13-year arrangement, which she says has forced her to work, made her take powerful anti-psychotic meds, and even keep a birth control device in place so she couldn't get pregnant. Reaction to Spears' story has been mostly one of dismay, with some big names coming out to condemn the "control" dad Jamie Spears and others have exerted over the pop star. Coverage:

  • New spotlight: The Hill notes that the Spears saga has put the topic of court-ordered conservatorships and guardianships—usually reserved for the elderly or seriously disabled—under the microscope. "Conservatorship often happens behind closed doors, and people don't understand what it is or how significant an impact it can have on a person's life," Nina Kohn, a Syracuse University law professor, tells the outlet.

  • Forced birth control: Perhaps the most shocking claim made by Spears on Wednesday was that she's been prevented from removing her IUD, as her conservatorship team, led by her father, allegedly doesn't want her to get pregnant. The New York Times takes a deep dive into the legality of such "compelled contraception," which it says is rare in conservatorships. "It's unusual that her father is making the kinds of decisions we'd expect a parent to make for a teenager," an NYU law professor tells the outlet.
  • Kudos for coming forward: Writing for the Guardian, Laura Snapes notes that even though Spears' story is a "devastating" one—with the singer's "denied potential ... like an egregiously brutal conclusion of the planned obsolescence built into women's pop careers"—she "has reclaimed her voice," which "retains its potential to define a new era for her—an evolving picture of life lived on her terms."
  • But 'are we listening?': That's the question posed in USA Today, where experts tell Alia Dastagir that Spears' bold, public step to communicate her desires is one often taken by survivors of abuse as they try to wrest control of their lives back. "We need to create space for her to define what's happened to her," says a Wheaton College gender studies professor. "And if the conservatorship gets changed or revoked, for the public, the media, and the people in her life to let her move on and not be defined by what happened to her."
  • A pattern in the industry: Writing for the New Republic, Emily Bootle notes the power struggles other women artists have had with male authority figures, including Beyonce with her manager dad, Taylor Swift with producer Scooter Braun, and Kesha with producer Dr. Luke. "It is a sad indictment that these women are ostensibly some of the most influential in the world, and yet even their performative independence and positive sexuality has often been an act dictated by powerful men," Bootle writes.
  • Spears' next steps: The Week warns that the singer's legal battle against her own imposed arrangement, which will have to start with a petition from her to end the conservatorship, is likely going to be a lengthy one, with some experts noting it could drag on for months, if not years. "This is probably the most unique conservatorship case ever," MSNBC legal analyst Danny Cevallos says, per NBC News. "The judge will not terminate this conservatorship lightly or without ample evidence."
  • Prediction: At least one lawyer who was moved by Spears' plea on Wednesday doesn't think it will make a difference. "When Britney spoke ... the world listened. This was amazing," family law attorney Peter Walzer tells the AP. "Now, whether the judge will buy it, whether the judge will let her out of her conservatorship, my bet is no."
  • Reform: What do conservatorship critics want overall, for both Spears and others in this situation? Changes to existing laws on such arrangements so that it's easier to have one terminated, and more difficult to have one implemented in the first place, as well as preventing conservatorship powers from being too wide-ranging, Kohn tells the Hill, adding: "Maybe some good can come out of this heartbreaking saga."
(Spears offered fans an apology on Thursday for pretending everything's been fine for the past couple of years.)

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