Why is Britney Spears in a legal battle with her father and what is a conservatorship?

Ahead of the court hearing ITV News US Correspondent Emma Murphy explains the background of the legal battle and what the conservatorship means for Britney

Words by ITV News Washington DC Producer Natasha Tierney

Britney Spears addressed a Los Angeles courtroom on Wednesday in the ongoing legal battle to remove her father as her conservator.

Jamie Spears has had control over the 39-year-old singer's estate and other affairs since he was given conservatorship by an LA judge in 2008, when she was admitted to a psychiatric ward.

The hearing was the first time the singer has spoken publicly about the arrangement.

An online campaign among her fans to #FreeBritney from the conservatorship has drawn global media attention to the singer's circumstances, with many criticising Mr Spears for taking advantage of his daughter's money.

From outside the court in LA Emma Murphy has the details of Britney's opening words to the hearing

So what does the conservatorship mean?

Under US law, conservatorships are granted when a person is deemed unfit to make important personal and financial decisions for themselves.

They are usually granted to the relatives of people with dementia or mental disabilities, and the conservator is given legal responsibility over things like health care, housekeeping and financial management. Any changes to the agreement need to go through the court.

In Spears' case, her father is a joint conservator of her financial affairs alongside the Bessemer Trust, an estate management firm.

Jamie Spears oversees Britney's personal and financial affairs. Credit: AP

He was also in charge of her personal affairs until 2019, when Jodi Montgomery - a court appointed professional - was granted control on a temporary basis.

Spears is hoping her testimony will persuade the judge to permanently remove her father as her conservator, after her lawyers tried unsuccessfully last year to convince the court that he was unfit for the role.

New court documents seen by the New York Times and released on Tuesday reportedly show that Spears was complaining about her father's handling of her affairs as early as 2014, allegedly telling her lawyers she was "afraid" of him.

A lawyer says conservatorships can be used to protect people but says in Spears' case, 'clearly, something is wrong'

How much freedom does Spears currently have?

Conservatorship restrictions are determined by the court on a case-by-case basis.

Since the start of Spears' arrangement, she has been allowed to work, recording albums and touring the world. She is able to regularly post on social media, go on holiday and continue her relationship with her boyfriend.

However, the legal conservators are responsible for monitoring Spears' visits with her children, and must approve any marriage plans or business deals.

The singer is also given a monitored allowance from her estimated $60 million fortune.

Why does Spears need a conservatorship?

Mr Spears was given conservatorship over his daughter after she was hospitalised for mental health reasons in 2008.

Following a number of highly publicised incidents - which culminated in Spears losing custody of her two sons - a court ruled that Mr Spears and a co-conservator should have temporary rights over her finances and medical decisions. This was later made permanent.

No records outlining Spears' exact mental health conditions have ever been made public, but her father's legal team have emphasised her vulnerability to people who could take advantage of her money and fame.

Is it possible to get out of a conservatorship?

In theory, a judge can dissolve a conservatorship arrangement at any time if the person is proven to be fit enough to take over their own affairs again.

In practice though, it's rare for someone to fully recover from the kind of circumstances that lead to a conservatorship in the first place.

In Spears' case, although we don't have details, court documents have suggested that she may support the conservatorship itself, and is primarily opposed to her father being the one in control.

A conservatorship has been in place for Britney Spears since 2008. Credit: Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File

What is the #FreeBritney movement?

Over the past few years, fans have been watching Spears' regular Instagram posts, and supposedly finding hidden messages they believe are cries for help.

The hashtag #FreeBritney has grown in popularity around the world, and recently even minor court hearings around her conservatorship have drawn big crowds of protesters outside, rallying for her freedom and posting updates on social media.

Celebrities, including Paris Hilton, Miley Cyrus and Pitbull, have all spoken out in support of the campaign.

The release of the hugely popular New York Times' documentary 'Framing Britney Spears' earlier this year, brought the movement to further global fame and expanded its following, even as the singer suggested she didn't approve of the programme.

'This conservatorship has been fraudulent since day one', Free Britney activist Leanne Simmons tells ITV News US Correspondent Emma Murphy

What did Spears say in the hearing?

Britney Spears pleaded with the judge to end the “abusive” court conservatorship because she "deserved a life".

“I want to end this conservatorship without being evaluated,” Ms Spears said in a long, emotional and sometimes profane speech, in which she condemned the legal arrangement and her father, who has controlled it for most of its existence.

“This conservatorship is doing me way more harm than good,” she said. “I deserve to have a life.”

Ms Spears said she had worked since she was 17 years old, yet has no control of her life and can’t see her money “unless I do as they say”.

“I cannot live a full life,” the singer said.

In her shocking testimony, delivered to the court remotely over the phone, Ms Spears said she wants to marry her boyfriend and have a baby, but the conservatorship won’t allow her to.

The next hearing date in the case after Tuesday is scheduled for July 14.

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