After 13 years of oversight, a media fervor, and personal pleas from the pop icon herself, a judge decided Wednesday to remove Britney Spears’ father from her conservatorship. Spears had called the legal relationship with her father “abusive” and “cruel.”
Spears’ estate will temporarily be overseen by John Zabel, a certified public accountant, according to Variety. Los Angeles Judge Brenda Penny may consider ending the conservatorship completely at a later date, CNN reported.
The decision to remove Spears’ father from her conservatorship is meaningful for advocates of appropriate mental healthcare in Hollywood (and on the internet at large). Not only was Spears largely out of control of her own finances and career decisions, she was also forced into various mental health treatments, including medication and therapy, and, as she claimed in court, had to maintain preventative birth control in the form of an IUD, even though she expressed a desire to have more children. Spears’ conservatorship was never just a question of business acumen, but one of bodily autonomy.
Spears’ allegations attest to a coercive form of mental healthcare, built on outdated notions of mental health treatment — that she was a danger to herself and others — and a medical profession that historically takes advantage of women’s mental health to exert control.
Earlier this month, Spears’ father, Jamie Spears, filed a petition to terminate his daughter’s conservatorship that he controlled. Influenced by comments his daughter made in a June court appearance in which she said she had been traumatized by her father’s conservatorship, the petition claims her father wants what is “best” for the singer, CNN reported.
Spears formally consented to her father’s request last week, agreeing that the arrangement should be terminated “expeditiously.”
While this isn’t the end of the conservatorship as a whole, it is a step towards a different version of freedom and independence for Spears.
Celebrity isn’t without spotlight, and the life of a pop star in particular is filled with frequent exposure, but Spears has dealt with an overwhelming amount of exposure. She alluded to this in a now-archived Instagram post from March, in which she wrote in the caption, “My life has always been very speculated… watched… and judged really my whole life !!! I’ve always been so judged… insulted… and embarrassed by the media… and I still am till this day!!!!”
In 2007, her divorce and mental health struggles were plastered across magazines. She was chased and followed incessantly by paparazzi, and People magazine made headlines — and a cover story — of her when she was admitted to the hospital for a psychiatric hold in 2008. The public was (and continues to be) acutely aware of intimate details of Spears’ life.
Unfortunately, this unfettered gaze and control didn’t stop when she left the public eye. Instead, she quietly dealt with the oppressive control of her father’s conservatorship as she stopped performing and parented two children.
Even seemingly well-meaning fans and advocates have broken boundaries and held a lens over her personal life, speculating on hidden messages in her posts and even sending threats to her former co-conservator, judges, and her family. When the New York Times released a documentary, Controlling Britney Spears, for streaming on Hulu about Spears’ life earlier this year, the star wasn’t thrilled, but embarrassed. Netflix released its own documentary about her conservatorship, Britney vs. Spears, this week and the singer wasn’t exactly pleased, according to a comment she made on Instagram.
Since becoming famous at just 16 years old and entering into the conservatorship at 26, Spears is finally out from under the control of her father. Maybe she’ll actually achieve a sense of long-awaited privacy, too. At the very least, she’s closer to a fair chance.
UPDATE: Sept. 29, 2021, 4:09 p.m. PDT This post has been updated to note that a judge may consider ending the conservatorship at a later date.