What is a conservatorship? Why Britney Spears is fighting to control her own money

Star's financial and personal decisions managed by her father and other conservators since 2008

World-famous performer Britney Spears is ready to appear by video link  before a Los Angeles court on Wednesday.

It is a rare request by Spears to speak about control over her personal life and finances, being managed by her father under a 13-year conservatorship.

Fans of the former star of Disney's Mickey Mouse Club and the singer of countless hits including ... Baby One More Time and Toxic are focused on the conservatorship, which they say has affected every aspect of Spears's life.

What is a conservatorship?

A court can order a conservatorship when it decides a person is unable to make independent decisions.

Often placed on elderly or disabled people, conservatorships place an individual's finances and decisions under the direction of a third party – in Spears's case, it is her father, Jamie Spears, and others.

What led to the conservatorship?

Spears, 39, was placed under a temporary court-ordered conservatorship in 2008 by a Los Angeles court after a very public breakdown.

She entered and left rehab twice within a few days and lost custody of her two children in 2007.

Tabloids chronicled her various headline-grabbing escapades, including when she shaved her head and when she attacked a paparazzo's car with an umbrella.

During her performance at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2007, Spears alarmed many by her disoriented appearance on stage.

In 2008, she was admitted to hospital twice for psychiatric observation.

Under the temporary conservatorship, her father and a lawyer managed her financial and business activities as well as decisions in her personal life.

A few months after the initial court order in 2008, a judge extended the conservatorship indefinitely.

Mr Spears now acts as co-conservator with a financial trust.

The star has, since 2008, released three albums, appeared as a judge on the US TV show The X Factor, performed on a world tour and held a two-year concert residency at a Las Vegas theatre.

After recently cancelling another residency, she announced she was going on an “indefinite work hiatus” and has become more active on Instagram, where she has more than 30 million followers.

Does she want the conservatorship to end?

Concerned fans have long questioned the length and necessity of the conservatorship and whether Spears has had proper access to the money she made while under the arrangement.

“If I wasn't under the restraints I'm under right now, with all the lawyers and doctors and people analysing me every day, if that wasn't there, I'd feel so liberated," Spears said in an MTV documentary in 2008.

"When I tell them the way I feel, it's like they hear, but they're really not listening."

In February, The New York Times released a documentary on FX and Hulu chronicling the conservatorship, gaining her legal affairs further attention.

The newspaper on Tuesday published a story citing confidential court documents that show Spears has for years been pushing to end the conservatorship.

FILE PHOTO: A supporter wearing a personal protective face shield holds a sign while rallying for pop star Britney Spears during a conservatorship case hearing at Stanley Mosk Courthouse in Los Angeles, California, U.S., March 17, 2021.  REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/File Photo

What is the #FreeBritney movement?

Born out of a podcast that analysed Spears's Instagram posts, the hashtag #FreeBritney became the slogan of a protest movement in Los Angeles that called for her freedom from the conservatorship.

#FreeBritney participants say her ordeal is a case of abuse of the US conservatorship and guardianship system.

The movement has attracted the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has offered legal support to the performer.

What can we expect from Wednesday's hearing?

Spears's legal representatives have given no clues as to what the singer might say in court.

The New York Times said Spears told a closed-door court hearing in early 2019 about abuses she had experienced during the conservatorship.

Representatives for  her father, 68, declined to comment to the Times article before the court hearing.

In 2020, Spears and her legal team objected to Mr Spears's move to seal a court filing in the case.

Her statement to the court ended with the words: "The world is watching."

Mr Spears and the other conservators have said the singer could ask the court to end the conservatorship at any time, but she has largely been mum on the issue in public.

His lawyer, Vivian Thoreen, told CNN this spring: "He would love nothing more than to see Britney not need a conservatorship.

"Whether or not there is an end to the conservatorship really depends on Britney," she said.

"If she wants to end her conservatorship, she can file a petition to end it."

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