Britney Spears seeking substantial changes to conservatorship

Joe Coscarelli, The New York Times

Posted at Aug 19 2020 07:00 AM

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Since her infamous public breakdowns more than a decade ago, the pop singer Britney Spears has lived in California under a court-approved conservatorship, a complex legal arrangement meant to oversee her personal well-being and finances.

Steered largely by the singer’s father, James Spears, the conservatorship has functioned mostly out of public view, though fans and even some family members have intermittently worried aloud about the control exerted over Spears, 38, and her fortune, leading to repeated pleas and protests under the #FreeBritney banner.

Still, the singer herself has rarely commented on the arrangement, and has made little effort through her court-appointed lawyer to alter the structure of the conservatorship.

That changed this week when lawyer Samuel D. Ingham III submitted a filing Monday in which he said Spears now believes the conservatorship “must be changed substantially in order to reflect the major changes in her current lifestyle and her stated wishes.” (The filing was first reported by The Blast.)

Among those shifts, according to Ingham, was Spears’ “desire not to perform at this time,” following a four-year Las Vegas residency that ended in late 2017, and a one-off appearance the next year. In January 2019, the singer announced “an indefinite work hiatus,” canceling her next scheduled concert residency, citing the health of her father, who had suffered a ruptured colon.

Later that year, James Spears stepped back from his role as Spears’ personal conservator — a role he held since 2008, in which he oversaw her mental health care, among other things — and was replaced on a temporary basis by Jodi Montgomery, a licensed professional conservator.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Now, Spears has decided she is “strongly opposed” to having her father return as conservator of her person or her estate, according to Ingham’s filing, while also leaving open the possibility that she could seek to end the conservatorship entirely. “Without in any way waiving her right to seek termination of this conservatorship in the future,” the lawyer wrote, “Britney would like Ms. Montgomery’s appointment as conservator of her person to be made permanent.”

As for her financial affairs, or her estate, which James Spears has also managed since 2008, sometimes in tandem with another lawyer, “she strongly prefers to have a qualified corporate fiduciary appointed to serve in this role.”

Ingham added that he expected “any effort to achieve my client’s objectives as stated above will be aggressively contested by James,” and that Spears hoped to hire a law firm with “substantial expertise in handling contested litigation in a highly complex case such as this one.”

Ingham declined to comment on the case. Montgomery did not respond to a request for comment.

Though a conservatorship, sometimes called a guardianship, is typically used to protect the elderly, the mentally disabled or the extremely ill, Spears’ arrangement has been flexible to suit her specific needs, as per California law, Ingham said in his filing.

He broke the arrangement down into three phases, calling the first “triage” — rescuing the singer “from a collapse, exploitation by predatory individuals and financial ruin” — and with the second phase covering her comeback, in which she regained “her position as a world class entertainer.” The third phase, Ingham said, would reflect Spears’ current pared-down public profile, in which her appearances have been relegated to a colorful Instagram account.

A status hearing in the case is scheduled for Wednesday in Los Angeles.

James Spears, better known as Jamie, gave a rare interview about the conservatorship earlier this month, denying fan-led allegations that the singer’s affairs were not being properly handled on his watch. “All these conspiracy theorists don’t know anything,” he told Page Six. “The world don’t have a clue. It’s up to the court of California to decide what’s best for my daughter. It’s no one else’s business.”

“I love my daughter,” he added. “But this is our business. It’s private.”