It's the end of an involuntary era.
Almost 14 years after all decisions pertaining to the care and career of Britney Spears were placed in her father's hands, on Friday a Los Angeles judge terminated the conservatorship that had been overseeing the pop superstar's personal and financial affairs, turning the page on one of this past decade's most fraught celebrity story lines.
Spears wasn't in court but she and fiancé Sam Asghari optimistically geared up for the big decision, donning #FreeBritney t-shirts for the 'gram Thursday night.
Following the momentous ruling, Spears posted on Instagram several times in quick succession, including a video of the crowd celebrating outside the courthouse.
"Good God I love my fans so much it's crazy!!!" she wrote, punctuating the sentiment with emojis including a heart, prayer hands and sunshine. "I think I'm gonna cry the rest of the day !!!! Best day ever … praise the Lord … can I get an Amen???? #FreedBritney." About a half hour later she added, "I can't freaking believe it !!!! Again … best day ever !!!!"
Joy, sass and frustration shared on Instagram have been Spears' primary means of communication with her millions of fans, a vocal bunch of whom came together—mainly online but, at times, in person, such as to rally outside a court hearing—under the #FreeBritney umbrella to advocate for their idol's autonomy after years of her dad Jamie Spears calling the shots.
The extent of which allegedly was greater and more pernicious than anyone realized.
In the September FX-Hulu documentary The New York Times Presents: Controlling Britney Spears, Alex Vlasov said he spent nine years on Spears' protection detail from Black Box Security, a firm hired by Jamie. Vlasov alleged that there had been a recording device in Spears' bedroom to monitor her private conversations, that her iPhone (once it was approved that she could have one) was closely monitored, and that members of the security team portioned out and watched her take her medication.
In response to Vlasov's allegations, Jamie's lawyer told the New York Times, "All of his actions were well within the parameters of the authority conferred upon him by the court. His actions were done with the knowledge and consent of Britney, her court-appointed attorney, and/or the court. Jamie's record as conservator—and the court's approval of his actions— speak for themselves." Edan Yemini, president of Black Box Security, said in a statement included in the documentary, "Black Box have always conducted themselves within professional, ethical and legal bounds and they are particularly proud of their work in keeping Ms. Spears safe for many years."
Previously Spears had lamented to the court that she couldn't go anywhere without permission and, not only was she unable to marry her boyfriend, the 39-year-old mother of now-teenage sons Sean and Jayden said she hadn't been able to have her IUD removed so she could try to get pregnant again.
And according to legal documents reviewed by the Times, Spears' lawyer at the time had communicated to the court that she wanted out of the conservatorship all the way back in 2014.
Before Nov. 12, the reins had visibly loosened since these various accusations went public, starting with Spears' surprise decision to remotely address the court during a June 23 hearing, the first time she'd been heard expressly on the subject of her conservatorship in years. (After telling a MTV documentary crew about how hopeless and cooped up she felt in the summer of 2008, calling her situation "never-ending" just months into the arrangement, she never talked about it again.)
Asghari went ahead and proposed, Spears flashing her dazzling ring on Sept. 12. And in addition to showing off her body in various states of undress on social media, she starting making pointed comments about trust and freedom and people not being there for her. Her captions grew longer as the amount of f--ks given decreased.
"There's nothing worse than when the people closest to you who never showed up for you post things in regard to your situation whatever it may be and speak righteously for support," she wrote July 16. "There's nothing worse than that!!!!"
And months before she declared in open(-ish, as journalists were present but instructed not to use recording devices) court that her dad was "ruining" her life, she criticized the February FX-Hulu special Framing Britney Spears, writing in a since-deleted post that she was "embarrassed by the light they put me in."
Yet at the same time, and long overdue, the New York Times-produced special touched a national nerve. That old footage put the onus back on the paparazzi who relentlessly hounded Spears and the casual misogyny embedded in the coverage of her throughout the '00s, be it the whoops and high-fives for Justin Timberlake when the topic of bedding Britney came up or respected pillars of journalism such as Diane Sawyer grilling the platinum-selling star about her perceived missteps.
The show also gave unprecedented visibility to the #FreeBritney movement, populated by people who've been convinced for years that she was being mistreated under cover of the conservatorship.
And no doubt the hashtag warriors are celebrating this weekend, validated in their efforts now that Spears is, in fact, free. But what does this returned control over her own affairs look like moving forward?
Wedding planning appears to be underway, for starters, with Spears teasing her 35.9 million Instagram followers on Nov. 9 by posting a photo of herself in a light-pink gown. She assured, however, that it was not her wedding dress, but that Donatella Versace was working on the garment "as we speak."
Is it all that simple now? Spears gets the keys to her castle back and she and Asghari live happily ever after? Is she having her IUD removed as we speak?
With the new arrangement, or lack thereof, in place, "she will make all of her own decisions and she will finally be free to live her own life without the shackles of the conservatorship on both the personal and financial side," attorney Benny Roshan, chair of Greenberg Glusker's Trust and Probate Group, told E! News of Spears' renewed freedoms.
Tamar Arminak, a civil litigation and conservatorship attorney who is involved with Amanda Bynes' conservatorship, told E! News, "She'll be able to go get a marriage license and she'll be able to enter into the contract of marriage, because it is a contract in the state of California, without needing the permission of her conservator." (Neither Arminak nor Roshan is involved in the Spears case.)
Additionally, Arminak continued, once Spears was rid of her conservatorship "she would be the one making all medical decisions. And as far as her money goes, again, we don't know the details of how it's held or kept, if it's in a trust or whatnot, but we can assume that, yes, if she puts on a show on Saturday night, gets paid a million bucks for it, that million bucks is going in her pocket. She decides where it goes and how it's spent."
Spears hasn't performed since 2018, having pulled out of what would have been her second Las Vegas residency in early January 2019. She wrote on Instagram in October that she was "staying clear of the business" for the foreseeable future, scared of putting a wrong foot forward. But obviously her fans are hoping it was just circumstances keeping her down, and that getting her agency back gives her a new lease on entertainment life.
When it comes to managing Spears' sizable estate, which a Forbes investigation put at $60 million earlier this year, Arminak points out that a court has been approving the conservatorship's handling of her money since 2008, whether it was paying her American Express bill or responding to child support requests from her ex-husband, Kevin Federline.
She may want different attorneys or accountants to review her finances, but a judge has pretty much "immunized" those prior transactions, the lawyer said.
"It'd be really difficult to find any kind of liability or go back to opening up those books because presumably the court has reviewed that," Arminak explained. "There is a probate attorney that works for the court in Los Angeles County that reviews dollars and cents. If one penny is misplaced, then the accounting is thrown back and [the parties are told to] go back and do it again, account for everything."
Seeking an investigation into his daughter's claims of mistreatment, Jamie maintained in a petition filed in June that he had no input when it came to his daughter's medical care, her social life or other personal choices. Jodi Montgomery—who's been serving as conservator of Spears' person (as opposed to her estate) since 2019—then alleged in a July court filing that Jamie had used $2 million of his daughter's money to fund his defense in conservatorship matters in order to hang onto his well-compensated position.
"It is ironic that Mr. Spears now wants the conservatorship to 'reflect her wishes,' since it is no secret that Ms. Spears has wished her father out of her life for years," the filing charged.
Jamie, who petitioned in September to end the conservatorship and was suspended as co-conservator later that month, has denied wrongdoing or acting in any way that he didn't think was in his daughter's best interest. (CPA John Zabel was appointed temporary conservator of her estate at the time.)
"As Mr. Spears has said again and again, all he wants is what is best for his daughter," read his petition, the very one that was granted Nov. 12. "If Ms. Spears wants to terminate the conservatorship and believes that she can handle her own life, Mr. Spears believes that she should get that chance."
As for Spears' grievances, as well as the allegations made to the New York Times about the state of surveillance and other means of control implemented at Spears' house, on her phone, etc., Arminak says Spears may be able to file a civil lawsuit.
Spears' attorney Matthew Rosengart, whom she hired this past summer, confirmed in September that he was investigating Jamie for possible financial mismanagement during his time as conservator and was seeking to have the 69-year-old sit for a deposition as part of his inquiry.
Fans waiting in the public line hoping to bask in the energy of the day applauded Rosengart as he made his way into court for Friday's pivotal hearing. About 30 minutes later, as the good news made its way outside, a #FreeBritney rally turned dance party was already underway.
But while technically all the balls are back in her court now, a lot of the nuts and bolts of living the Britney Spears life aren't nearly as sexy as envisioning what she'll wear on her wedding day.
"What really starts happening," Arminak says, "is things like contracts, leases that need to be transferred into her own name and not her father's and not her conservators'. It's the little details, [such as] where if she has a maid, now the conservatorship isn't going to pay that maid, she's going to have to pay that maid. It's things like that that needs to happen, those little details. And she's been in it for 13 years, so it's going to take a little bit of time" to sort it all out.
Meanwhile, her situation—a grown woman earning millions of dollars recording and touring the world and sharing custody of her two children, while simultaneously considered unable to care for herself—has almost no direct parallels as far as predicting what exactly happens next.
Ahead of the decision, Roshan said there wasn't a lot of precedent for just pulling the plug on a conservatorship without evidence being presented by the conservator's side (i.e. Jamie), or ordering a psychological evaluation for the conservatee. Spears told the court in June that she had already undergone numerous evaluations and did not want to submit to another one.
When Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny ruled Nov. 12 that "effective today the conservatorship of Britney Jean Spears, the person and the estate, is hereby terminated," she did not require a medical evaluation.
"There is no technical requirement for a psychological evaluation," Roshan explained. "There's nothing in the law that requires it."
"The court could theoretically use Britney's own testimony—in probate court the abbreviation is called T/T and that stands for 'take testimony,'" she continued. "The court could take testimony from Britney and any other interested witnesses like her mother, her advisor, anybody else who's willing to go and speak on her behalf, to say, 'Hey, look, this is no longer necessary. It just seems like we would be putting her through the wringer and it would just be silly.'"
Since Spears was allowed to hire her own counsel this past summer (a privilege she was memorably not granted 13 years ago), Roshan said, it seemed as though the court was already acknowledging the "changed circumstances" that would allow her to manage her own affairs again for the first time in more than a decade.
And both legal experts believe that, while it was ultimately up to a judge, the added media scrutiny and swell in public interest driven by the #FreeBritney movement made a difference.
"I can't underscore the importance of their role in her case and how much their support meant," Roshan said. "It almost was like that was a force to be reckoned with. And I think when that force is dedicated to the truth and uncovering the truth and making sure that justice is served, I don't think that there's any way to stop that." As a practitioner of the law, Roshan noted, you would wish that level of vigilance for anyone in a conservatorship. "I wish that there was a 'Free Britney' movement for everyone," she said.
"I think it's that testimony she gave in June that really freed her," Arminak said. "But yes, the last two years have been [all about] #FreeBritney and it sounds like it gave her the courage and the momentum to go against the conservatorship, which is something she seemed to have been afraid to do all along." Montgomery, who came aboard as temporary co-conservator when Jamie stepped back citing health issues in 2019, "read the tea leaves here, and so did her [court-appointed former] attorney Samuel Ingham, and it became clear that it was going to come out that this was against her wishes."
Once Spears felt ready to speak on her own behalf, and then was able to hire her own attorney, events "snowballed," Arminak concluded. "So the short answer is, yes, I do think #FreeBritney places a perfectly placed crack, which turned into a wedge, which turned into a 10-foot opening that Britney walked through."