By Ally Margolis
Ally Margolis is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences studying Political Science and History.
In the recent weeks following the release of the documentary “Framing Britney Spears,” the #FreeBritney movement has become mainstream. This movement features examinations of the misogyny and mistreatment that Spears endured as a child and burgeoning star, as well as analyzes her conservatorship, with many believing that she is being unfairly restricted by her father. But with 1.3 million people under these arrangements, what is a conservatorship ? And what is it like for non-celebrities?
A conservatorship, also referred to as a guardianship, is a court-appointed role which controls a person’s estate when that person is deemed physically or mentally unable to care for themselves . Conservatorships can be valuable for physical and financial security, and are often the only way for someone to legally be able to maintain another person’s life when they cannot do it for themselves . Conservatorships can be “of the estate” (dealing with finances) or “of the person” (dealing with much more personal aspects of a person’s life); Britney is under both . Britney’s father, Jamie Spears, has acted as conservator over her since 2008, with a temporary replacement by a licensed conservator presiding for a time in 2019 when he was undergoing health complications . A financial group has also taken on the co-conservator role as per Britney’s wishes, who Britney argues should be her sole conservator . While we do not know why Britney is searching for a different conservator, it is clear she does not want her father at the helm.
Although Britney Spears has the American Civil Liberties Union and millions of others calling for her release from her conservatorship, conservatorships are historically hard to end . They limit the ability of a person to even obtain an attorney or bring suit, making it incredibly difficult for someone to be released from them . In Spears’ case, while there is no evidence of her finances being mismanaged, her conservatorship limits the independence she has in decision making, which may cause particular psychological harm for the “high-functioning conservatee” that her lawyer described her as . Britney Spears has gone on to headline tours and judge national competition shows all while not having control of her own life. While we do not know the inside of Spears conservatorship, one can assume that having her father--a man she has reportedly not spoken to in years--in control of her is likely to be emotionally damaging. Spears’ boyfriend and son have, in fact, both expressed displeasure with Jamie Spears. More generally speaking, conservatees can be under financial, psychological, and physical abuses--sometimes all three. Like all other forms of abuse, much of the abuse suffered under conservatorships goes unreported because of an inability to bring it to attention, which is exacerbated by the state of conservatorship.
Given the high stakes of conservatorships and the control they maintain over another person, many have fought for more oversight and reforms. Pamela Teaster of the Center for Gerontology at Virginia Tech has argued for stricter qualifications for conservators, better treatment through establishing less persons per conservator, and more concrete research and data on conservatorships . There have been congressional hearings and reports about conservatorships, and the Special Committee on Aging is demanding new options which may be less restrictive than conservatorships . However, new models have not been developed yet, and conservatees who are looking to escape their conservatorship are still left without options. While Spears may have millions of Americans fighting for her, she is unlikely to escape her conservatorship. Imagine all those who are suffering in silence, with the world unaware.
 Bozelko, Chandra. “Britney Spears’ conservatorship can be both totally legal and quite bad for her. Many are.” (14 November 2020). NBC News THINK. https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/britney-spears-conservatorship-can-be-both-totally-legal-quite-bad-ncna1247750.
 Zoe Christen Jones and Justin Carissimo. “Britney Spears’ conservatorship, explained.” (13 February 2021). CBS News. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/britney-spears-conservatorship-explained/.
 Amsberry Law Firm. “The Advantages and Disadvantages of Guardianship.” (20 January 2018). Amsberry Law Firm. https://amsberrylaw.com/advantages-disadvantages-guardianship/.
 Brenoff, Ann. “The System of Court-Appointed Guardians Continues to Fail The Elderly.” (10 October 2017). HuffPost.https://www.huffpost.com/entry/court-appointed-guardian-system-failing-elderly_n_59d3f70be4b06226e3f44d4e.
Image Source: “#FreeBritney Shines a Light on Problematic Guardianship Systems.” Human Rights Watch, 17 Feb. 2021, www.hrw.org/news/2021/02/17/freebritney-shines-light-problematic-guardianship-systems.
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