#FreeBritney: Justice for People Stuck in Abusive Conservatorships


Chris Pizello

Many people in support of Britney Spears’ protest outside the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of Chris Pizello.

Britney Spears’s 13-year conservatorship was officially terminated on Friday, November 12. This court victory marked the beginning of the end of a messy case that lasted since June 2021, when Spears first pleaded to court. This case brought widespread media attention regarding the horrors Spears claims to have faced in the past decade. However, even at a broader scale, it proceeds to shed light on the flaws of conservatorships – and how many people can find themselves stuck in an abusive one.

A conservatorship, also known as a guardianship, is granted by the court when a person is deemed incapable of making their own decisions. They are granted to those with dementia or other severe mental illnesses. Spears, whose mental conditions ultimately led to the development of her conservatorship, resulted in her father, Jaime Spears, having full control over her personal life and finances.

Spears’s conservatorship began in 2008 after a series of erratic behavior. On Wednesday, June 23, Spears finally went to court and described her chilling experiences from the past 13 years. She explained being forced to perform against her will, drugged, and prevented from having children or getting married. “I just want my life back,” said Spears. Her pleas were not in vain because on Friday, November 12, her father was officially removed as conservator.

Throughout this complex, prolonged, and above all disturbing mess of a case, one of many newfound revelations has proved prominent – it should not be this difficult to get one’s freedom back.

The purpose of conservatorships are and will continue to be necessary. Truth be told, there are many people who are undoubtedly inadequate to make proper decisions and live safely under their own governing. The ultimate flaw is the possibility of people being taken advantage of, as seen in Spears’s case. Spears was clearly in need of a conservator in 2008. This court-ruled decision made sense. However, how long is she to be determined incapable? Spears adamantly expresses her opinions on the matter, as she describes feeling out of control, as if dear parts of her life had been stolen from her, parts she felt entirely capable of governing over a decade after her period of instability.

The honest extent of Spears’s mental health issues is likely concealed from public knowledge, so it is unfair to make a personal verdict. However, surely there should be some sort of annual evaluation regarding her mental condition, just some way out for people in situations such as her.

The idea of having one’s bodily autonomy stripped away with the flick of a pen is terrifying. Even more so, the long and grueling process to get it back, as displayed in Spears’s case, only adds to this terror. This enables a wide range of issues such as conservatorship abuse, exploitation, exhortation, etcetera. Aside from people in situations such as Spears, the elderly, and groups of people that could be taken advantage of very easily, it would likely be even more challenging to advocate for themselves. When something as sacred as someone’s freedom is taken away to protect their rights and overall well-being, it is beyond necessary to develop an easier way out.

A reasonable escape method to conservatorships is difficult to conjure up. After all, sorting through those who are capable of living safely, and those who are not, those who are adequate to govern someone else’s life, and those who are not is no easy feat, as so much of this ruling is more or less subjective. However, despite all of this, its necessity remains. It needs to be easier, but not so easy that just anybody can get out of a conservatorship if they wish to. Whether it’s annual psychiatric check-ins or thorough mental health examinations or testing, the truth is something needs to be put into place, so people aren’t stuck without their free will.

The idea of something like this happening so easily should be scary to everyone. Just imagine the reality- not being able to have kids, forced to do countless things against your will, a reality that the beloved pop star is very, very familiar with. There is a prominent flaw in this system, and needs to be resolved.