Singer Britney Spears has revealed that her husband, Sam Asghari, has filed for divorce. The couple was married for only 14 months before Mr. Asghari’s divorce filing. The divorce itself is only the most recent legal event in the life of Ms. Spears. In 2021, a 13-year conservatorship of Ms. Spears by her father ended, as well. This was a conservatorship of her estate as well as of her person. This meant that her father was able to make decisions regarding her individually as well as her wealth. Anyone who follows celebrity news is likely aware of this. It was a major story and people were, overall, happy for Ms. Spears.
The story of this conservatorship coming to an end goes hand in hand with the recently filed divorce. That Ms. Spears and her husband did not have a prenuptial agreement is somewhat baffling considering the disparity in wealth between the two before their marriage. Now the parties will have to negotiate through a settlement on financial issues or go before a family court judge to have them decided for them. This is far from an ideal circumstance. A relatively short marriage could lead to a relatively long divorce and one that sees Ms. Spears and her husband go toe to toe over how property should be divided, if at all.
Typically, the topic of a conservatorship is not a very interesting one. True, it is important in family law and can be important when it comes to guardianships and things of that nature. Most of the time when we talk about conservatorships here on the blog for the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, we are discussing conservatorship issues related to children. Conservatorship means possessing rights and duties on behalf of another person.
When we think about the conservatorship of a child it makes complete sense that a minor child would not be capable of making decisions for themselves. This is why children have parents and those parents can make decisions on behalf of the child until he or she reaches the age of adulthood. However, it becomes a murkier subject when you talk about the conservatorship of an adult. There is something about taking these rights away from an adult that is more difficult to stomach or tolerate. This is true even if the conservatorship is in the best interests of the adult ward. It is reasonable to look skeptically at a conservatorship especially when great financial stakes are involved.
Such is the case regarding the conservatorship of Britney Spears. The wealth of Ms. Spears and her notoriety as a singer propelled conservatorships from a mundane legal topic to the front page of every gossip outlet in the country. On top of the interest that the case received due to it involving a celebrity, it was also somewhat scandalous that Ms. Spears's father was her conservator. A celebrity who is out of control is nothing new, unfortunately. However, that celebrity’s family taking control of her life is not commonly seen.
The conservatorship involves a court giving one person authority (known as a conservator) Over another person who is incapacitated or otherwise determined to be incapable of making decisions for themselves. There are both temporary and permanent conservatorships under the law and can involve subjects as wide-ranging as that person's financial decisions, personal decisions, and everything in between. A court requires a great deal of evidence showing that the person subject to the conservatorship is incapable of caring for themselves and requires That a conservative should be initiated on their behalf.
When we talk about conservatorships for adults, we usually think about them in terms of being used for older people. It is older people who typically have health problems that limit them both physically and mentally. If anyone reading this blog post has ever cared for a parent or grandparent, then you know what I'm talking about. Older people can go back and forth between being lucid and seemingly capable of caring for themselves to being incapable of doing so for a multitude of reasons. A conservatorship would help an elderly person's child be able to care for their finances and health decisions in their golden years.
It is also possible for younger people to be able to have conservatorships placed on them. We saw this firsthand when it came to Britney Spears. Without getting too much into the antics and behavior of Ms. Spears I think it is safe to say that the public record is full of instances involving bizarre behavior in a seeming inability to look out for her own best interests. Whether or not a conservatorship was needed can be left up to you to decide. However, the reality is that for 13 years Britney Spears’ father acted as her conservator.
In the event of an emergency or other sudden development, a temporary, emergency conservatorship can be sought through a probate court. This conservatorship could last through a health scare or other specifically defined. And would be lifted once the circumstances were no longer ongoing which resulted in the incapacitation. There are clearly defined limitations in this type of emergency conservatorship order. As a result, it is somewhat easier to obtain a temporary emergency conservatorship than it is for someone to obtain a permanent conservatorship.
Britney Spears and her conservatorship situation
Britney Spears's conservatorship ended because she petitioned the court for it to be terminated. Throughout much of her career as a world-famous entertainer, Britney Spears was under this conservatorship. Meaning that she could perform and otherwise earn a living as an entertainer, but she was unable to make decisions about how her money could be spent at a level beyond her immediate, day-to-day needs. For nearly the entirety of the conservatorship, her father acted as her conservator.
The logical question to ask about this situation is: Why was Britney Spears put under a conservatorship in the first place? The conservatorship of Britney Spears began in 2008 when a California court did so after taking note of a series of abnormal behavior evidenced by Ms. Spears including shaving her head, withholding visitation from her child's father by locking herself in a room with the child, and attacking members of the media with an umbrella. Their behavior resulted in Britney Spears being placed in a mental institution for an extended weekend for observation.
It was after this hospitalization that her father Jamie Spears petitioned the California court for a conservatorship. While the initial petition filed was for a temporary conservatorship a court subsequently made it permanent. The type of conservatorship placed upon Britney Spears was a personal as well as financial conservatorship. This is where a conservatorship can get tricky. Any decision of consequence in her life had to be approved by her conservator. This meant that she could not make decisions regarding her career, finances, or health without first having approval from the conservator.
Conservators are sworn to uphold and defend the best interests of the person under the conservatorship. This means that Britney Spears’ conservator could not make decisions that were in his best interests or anyone else’s. Rather, he would need to make decisions that were in her best interests independent of any other consideration. This is a heavy burden certainly when you consider that Britney Spears and her father have had both a professional and personal relationship. His ability to separate those interests from what is in her best interests would be an understandable challenge.
The real question that many people associated with this case wonder about is why the conservatorship lasted for as long as it did. A nearly 14-year conservatorship would certainly be on the long side of things And may not have been necessary when you consider the facts and circumstances that she was going through. This is not to say that a conservatorship was never necessary especially considering her erratic and possibly even self-harmful behavior. However, people can improve their state of health by going to the doctor, receiving therapy, and performing other measures that could help them improve their overall health.
From doing a cursory amount of online research, I cannot seem to find any clear-cut explanation as to why the conservatorship lasted for as long as it did. Admittedly, I am not someone who keeps up with every update on the life of Britney Spears. However, I can recall that there was a period when she was in the news often for erratic and bizarre behavior. The specific behavior did not seem to be anything out of the ordinary for a celebrity but when she was taken for inpatient hospitalization and observation that seemed to tip the scales in favor of the conservatorship.
What Britney Spears may not have been aware of is that she could ask the court at any time to end the conservatorship. By simply filing a petition to terminate the conservatorship she would have been able to ask the court for the opportunity to attend a hearing where she could produce evidence showing that the conservatorship was no longer necessary and in her best interests. For example, showing that she has stabilized from mental health with medication and therapy, is in good physical health, was working consistently, and was displaying other signs of sobriety and self-control may have tipped the scales in her favor and allowed her to end the conservatorship sooner than it was.
The reality of the situation is that Britney Spears may simply have been unaware that she could take these steps on her own and that she did not need to continue in the conservatorship for as long as she did. This is interesting considering one would assume that she had several persons in her life who were able to talk to her about the circumstances and could even assist her in locating an attorney or other person who might have been able to advise her on how to end the conservatorship if that is what she wants to do.
What led to Britney Spears asking for the conservatorship to end?
Leading up to the end of the conservatorship, it was the position of Britney Spears’ attorney that she had not interacted with her father in some time. On top of that, it has been reported that she was afraid of her father and the decisions that he could make on her behalf. While this is speculation, it is unlikely that her father would meet with her consistently to go over
plans for her finances and other decisions that he would be making on her behalf. It is more likely that the two did not interact as much as a conservator and conservatee should and as a result, there is a large disconnect between the two when it came to the well-being of Britney Spears.
Overall, the conservatorship system is designed to help people who are unable to care for themselves by assisting in helping them make good decisions and otherwise care for themselves better. It is not easy to be put in a position where you have a large amount of wealth or are otherwise tasked with taking care of yourself when you have mental or physical limitations. Someone like Britney Spears who was affected by her fame and by the decisions that she made may at one point have been necessary, but, likely, the conservatorship did not need to last for as long as it did.
A high-profile case like the one involving Britney Spears has caused some in the legal community to begin to question how conservatorships are managed in this country and whether they should be approved by courts as frequently as they are. From what I have seen, there is no indication that anyone is calling for a complete overhaul of the system or to eliminate it. I think it is safe to say that there will always be circumstances where adults are sometimes unable to care for themselves if only for a short period. as a result, the conservatorship system is still needed.
One of the most obvious challenges presented by this case is that Britney Spears did not understand what her rights were in terms of being able to ask a court for an end to the conservatorship. She did not have to necessarily be under this conservatorship for as long as she was. The reason for this is that she could have petitioned the court to end the conservatorship if that is what she wanted to do. Putting up some safeguards as far as helping people understand their rights when under a conservatorship would be helpful. For instance, having periodic meetings with the court every so often to inform her of her rights and to check in on her status would seem to be prudent. Additionally, requiring that her attorney or another personal representative apart from the conservator file an update for the court on her condition would be prudent, as well. It seems that her continuing to be under the conservatorship was because of her not understanding her rights in full.
Keep in mind that there are differences between Britney Spears and a person under a conservatorship who is extremely low-functioning. For instance, someone with Alzheimer's or dementia would probably not be able to fully understand their rights even if explained to them frequently. For people like this, a conservatorship may be necessary on an ongoing basis. However, for people who are more high functioning allowing them to retain certain rights in their daily lives may be reasonable while ensuring that higher-level or more long-lasting decisions could be reserved for the conservator.
In any event, Britney Spears is no longer under a conservatorship. Her short-lived marriage will now be going through a divorce and the results of which are currently unknown. Hopefully, she has a good team of attorneys to help her manage the divorce and be able to protect her and the assets that she has worked for. If no prenuptial agreement was signed with her husband, there's a chance that he may be able to come out of the divorce with a substantial amount of property. This world, of course, invites a lot of questions about his motivation for entering the marriage in the first place.
In any event, if you find yourself with any questions regarding divorce, conservatorships, or guardianships then please do not hesitate to reach out to the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. We have a unique and experienced team of attorneys who can work with you on a family law case, estate planning, conservatorship, or guardianship matter. Thank you for joining us here today on our blog.
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