LOS ANGELES — Nearly 14 years after losing power over her personal affairs and multimillion-dollar fortune, Britney Spears is finally getting her life back.
On Friday, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny terminated Spears' conservatorship effective immediately, freeing the 39-year-old pop star from the legal binds that allowed her dad and his team to make decisions about her work, who she could have contact with, and how to spend her money since 2008. Now, Spears can live on her own terms.
"The time has come after more than a decade for the conservatorship to be terminated in its entirety," Spears' attorney Mathew Rosengart told the court.
The ruling marks the end of what she has described as a "demoralizing" and traumatizing chapter of her life. And while the #FreeBritney fan movement and increased scrutiny from news outlets certainly hastened what we now know was a yearslong fight to regain control, it was Spears' own voice that brought matters to a head four and a half months ago when she told the court — and the world — that her conservatorship was "abusive" and she wanted out.
"I just want my life back," Spears said during a virtual court appearance on June 23. "It’s been 13 years. And it’s enough."
Shortly after Friday's hearing, Spears thanked her fans in a tweet with the hashtag #FreedBritney.
"Good God I love my fans so much it's crazy 🥺❤️ !!! I think I'm gonna cry the rest of the day !!!!," she tweeted. "Best day ever ... praise the Lord ... can I get an Amen 🙏🏼☀️🙌🏼 ????" And in a follow up Instagram post, she posted a photo of her in a bright yellow dress with the caption: "I can’t freaking believe it !!!! Again … best day ever !!!!"
BuzzFeed News uncovered abuse, neglect, and death across the US guardianship industry. Read our investigative series "Beyond Britney" here.
Public interest in the Spears case was reignited in February when the New York Times released the documentary Framing Britney Spears, which questioned the control that her father, Jamie Spears, continued to hold over her financial and physical well-being. Then, just a day before she spoke in court, the Times reported that the singer had pushed to end the conservatorship for years, confirming fans' long-held belief that she wanted to be freed.
On Friday, fans once again rallied outside the courthouse, chanting “What do we want?” “Free Britney!” “When do we want it?” “Now!” while waving #FreeBritney flags. They erupted in jubilation when news of the judge's decision was announced, with her songs, including her hit "Stronger," playing over a loudspeaker.
Among the supporters outside on Friday was Kevin Wu, who said that for a long time, not enough people took the legal case seriously. But a turning point happened when the pop star was finally allowed to hire a lawyer of her choice, he said, adding that her explosive testimony opened a lot of eyes.
"It feels surreal that this is finally happening," Wu told BuzzFeed News.
#FreeBritney activist Junior Olivas, 33, agreed, saying fellow supporters had to "scream at every single hearing and pretty much put ourselves down everybody’s throat" to get people to take the movement seriously.
"I can't believe how much had to happen to get to this point," he said, adding that as soon as the pop star addressed the courtroom herself, "I knew that was it."
"We did our part, she did her part, and together that’s why we’re here today," he said.
Like others in the #FreeBritney movement, Olivas sprung into action in April 2019 when Tess Barker and Babs Gray, hosts of the Britney's Gram podcast, shared a disturbing voicemail they received from a paralegal involved in the conservatorship. The paralegal alleged that Spears was forced into a stay at a mental health facility.
Outraged by the claim, fans started rallying outside Stanley Mosk Courthouse in downtown LA during Spears' conservatorship hearings, trying to call attention to what they believed was an abusive arrangement. Their suspicions were finally confirmed by Spears herself, when she publicly denounced her conservatorship in June.
Addressing the #FreeBritney crowd Friday afternoon, Barker said she was proud of all the fans who spoke up for Spears when no one else would.
"We’ve been gaslit, we've been called every insult in the book, we’ve been diminished, this situation has been diminished and we never let up," she said. "This is a fucking beautiful day."
During the June hearing, Spears shared a number of shocking revelations, including that she'd like to get married and have another child, but she hadn't been able to make a doctor's appointment to remove her IUD under the conservatorship. She also said she was required to take medication that made her feel drunk and hadn't been allowed to visit her friends or ride in her boyfriend's car.
"I deserve to have a life," Spears said. "I deserve to have the same rights as anybody does by having a child, a family, any of those things, and more."
Spears' statements that afternoon set in motion the unraveling of the legal arrangement she lived under since February 2008, when her father petitioned the court to place her and her affairs in his care amid a public mental health crisis.
Days after her remarks to the court, Bessemer Trust, a wealth management firm that had been appointed to manage Spears' estate with her father, resigned as a co-conservator, saying that it "heard the Conservatee and respects her wishes."
Then, on July 6, her court-appointed attorney, Samuel Ingham, resigned from her case. To replace him, Spears hired Rosengart, a former federal prosecutor known for taking on celebrity clients. His team immediately got to work to remove her father and began investigating his handling of her affairs.
Jamie Spears has maintained in court filings that he appropriately managed his daughter's finances while trying to distance himself from her personal and medical care. But in her statements to the court in June and again in July, Spears has taken aim at her father specifically as well as the power the conservatorship gave him to "ruin [her] life."
“I’m here to get rid of my dad and charge him with conservatorship abuse,” she said on July 14.
Guided by new counsel, the pop star petitioned the court in late July to immediately suspend her father as conservator. In court papers, her attorney, Rosengart, described Jamie Spears' role in the conservatorship as "toxic" and untenable, as he argued that removing him was in Spears' best interests.
The move was supported by Jodi Montgomery, who has been serving as conservator of the singer's personal life for the last two years, as well as her medical team and her mother, Lynne Spears, according to court documents. Yet Jamie Spears continued to resist the calls to resign and insisted there were no grounds for his removal.
He ultimately relented. On Aug. 12, he indicated in another court filing that he would step down, but only after resolving certain issues, including outstanding payments to him, his legal team, and his daughter's former business manager. Then, facing continuing pressure from his daughter's counsel — and a request to turn over documents detailing his actions as conservator — Jamie Spears filed a petition to terminate the conservatorship on Sept. 7.
On Sept. 29, Judge Penny suspended him as conservator, setting the stage for the final termination of the arrangement.
Since then, Britney Spears has shared more freely what her life has been like under the conservatorship, saying in one Instagram caption that she felt like "a caged animal." She also has continued to criticize her family for failing to help her. In a now-deleted post, Spears called out her mom, saying she was the one that gave her dad the idea to create the conservatorship.
"I will never get those years back," the pop star wrote. "She secretly ruined my life."
Although the conservatorship is now over, John Zabel, an accountant who was appointed in September to replace Jamie Spears as conservator of the singer's estate, will temporarily retain the power to execute planning documents and transfer assets into Spears' trust, Rosengart explained. The court also needs to resolve pending requests to pay the attorneys who represented Spears and her conservators, as well as accounting reports for 2019 and on. Penny is expected to consider some of those items at a Jan. 19 hearing.
Spears' legal team is still continuing to investigate her father's administration of her affairs. They've already raised objections to a number of payments Jamie Spears made in recent years, including using her money to pay a former business manager's legal bills. They're also looking into reporting by the Times that the pop star’s security team monitored all communication on her phone and bugged her bedroom.
If they uncover evidence that he misappropriated Spears' money or engaged in any other misconduct, Rosengart has said she will sue.
“What’s next for Britney — and this is the first time that this could be said for about a decade — is up to one person: Britney,” he told reporters after the hearing.