Britney Spears publicly faced a judge in open court this week, for the first time since she was placed under a conservatorship nearly 13 years ago.
Her testimony was explosive. In asking the court to put an end to her conservatorship altogether, Spears came forward with numerous severe allegations including being drugged, forced to work, having no privacy and being required to change in front of caretakers who saw her nude, not being allowed to see her friends and even being prevented from growing her family.
These shocking claims, Spears says, were part of the restrictive arrangement she was under where she had absolutely no control over her own life. The multi-platinum artist said she is depressed, traumatized and in a state of shock.
“I just want my life back. And it’s been 13 years. And it’s enough. It’s been a long time since I’ve owned my money. And it’s my wish and my dream for all of this to end,” Spears pleaded to the judge. “I deserve to have a life. I’ve worked my whole life.”
Spears shared that she has an IUD and, despite her own desires, she claims her conservators won’t allow her to remove the birth control device.
“I would like to progressively move forward and I want to have the real deal, I want to be able to get married and have a baby,” Spears said in court. “I was told right now in the conservatorship, I’m not able to get married or have a baby. I have an IUD inside of myself right now so I don’t get pregnant. I wanted to take the IUD out so I could start trying to have another baby. But this so-called team won’t let me go to the doctor to take it out because they don’t want me to have children — any more children. So basically, this conservatorship is doing me way more harm than good.”
The notion of one of the greatest-selling stars of all time not having autonomy over her own reproductive rights is staggering. But, under a conservatorship, it is legal.
“Technically, they’re in control of all facets of her life, so yes, it is legal,” says attorney Sarah J. Wentz, a partner at the firm Fox Rothschild, who specializes in conservatorships, and has never worked with or met Spears.
“It’s likely that she would have consented to having that put in, at some point,” Wentz speculates about the IUD — but given Spears’ claims of being forced to be on pills, the legal expert says the pop star’s state of mind could have been unclear when she had the birth control device put in. Furthermore, the unbalanced power within a conservatorship could have made it very difficult for Spears to object and fully consent to any medical procedures.
“If I were Britney, I would immediately file a petition for a court order to have the conservator remove that. And this all goes back to, what is going on with her lawyer? Because that should have happened,” Wentz says, referring to Samuel D. Ingham III, the court-appointed attorney, who has been representing Spears since 2008 when she was put under the conservatorship. “Why her rights weren’t explained to her is a question — and maybe they were, but based on what she said, it doesn’t make sense to me why her lawyer wouldn’t explain her rights to her. It takes 15 minutes to draft a petition to ask to remove an IUD. This isn’t a hard task.”
With decades of experience in working on conservatorships, trusts and estates, Wentz says that never in her career has she spoken to a client under a conservatorship about birth control. (Then again, Spears’ case is highly unusual, and most individuals under a conservatorship are elderly with dementia or Alzheimers.)
“I don’t think anything about this is typical,” she says of Spears’ claims. “I personally have not had a situation where we restricted someone’s right to have a child.”
Trying to make sense of Spears situation, the legal expert offers some potential reasons why the 39-year-old star might have been told that she is not permitted to have a baby — but she makes clear that the restriction is highly abnormal. If anything, the attorney says that, should there have been major concerns about Spears’ capacity to care for another human, that scenario should have been clearly explained to her.
“If they think that she can’t take care of herself, so then, how could she possibly take care of a child, well then, that’s something they would need to talk about,” Wentz says. “And if she was having a child with someone who is not under a conservatorship, then there would be an agreement with that person where they could have the full legal custody. There are just so many ways where they could have tried to address that situation, if their genuine concern was that she couldn’t care for the child.”
Another one of Spears’ most shocking allegations was that her therapist changed her medication, and she was forced to take lithium, a drug that is often taken for bipolar disorder, depression or schizophrenia.
“He immediately, the next day, put me on lithium out of nowhere. He took me off my normal meds I’ve been on for five years,” Spears told the judge. “And lithium is a very, very strong and completely different medication compared to what I was used to…but he put me on that and I felt drunk. Not only did my family not do a goddamn thing, my dad was all for it.”
Wentz says that putting Spears on lithium is legal. However, she has ethical concerns, based on Spears’ testimony.
“Yes, it is legal. None of these people in charge of her conservatorship are medical experts, so they would be relying on a medical doctor who they would have consulted,” she explains. “But the piece that does alarm me is that if she felt drugged up, it would be her conservator’s job to monitor that and go back to the doctor and tell them that it’s having a bad effect on her. The administration and changing of drug is not a problem, but failing to recognizing what it was doing to her is a problem.”
The singer also told the judge that she had no privacy whatsoever, so when she changed her clothing, the caretakers who were monitoring her could see her nude. “They watched me change every day — naked – morning, noon and night,” Spears testified in court. “I had no privacy door for my room.”
To Wentz, this particular allegation is appalling.
“It is absolutely absurd,” the legal expert says of Spears’ lack of privacy. “Never, in any situation I’ve ever been involved with do you remove somebody’s dignity by not letting them change alone. That is awful. I can’t imagine a situation where you wouldn’t give somebody the privacy — unless it’s someone who physically could not change their clothes themselves and actually needed someone to do it for them because they’re maybe in a wheelchair or something like that.”
The attorney adds, “Just because your rights have been restricted, it doesn’t mean that you don’t get a moment to be alone in life.”
One of the most concerning issues throughout Spears’ conservatorship has been that the star has been working — and making a lot of money — while she’s being told that she is unfit to make any decisions for herself. Speaking the judge, Spears said that in 2018, she was forced to go on tour when she did not want to.
“Britney had sufficient funds to continue to maintain her lifestyle for the rest of her life,” Wentz says. “Forcing her to work if she didn’t want to do it seems like something that’s only in the interest of people who want to increase the size of the estate, which then increases the size of their fees, and is then a direct conflict of interest.”