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What does Britney Spears need to do to end her conservatorship?

▶ Watch Video: Britney Spears scores a victory in her conservatorship court battle

Britney Spears scored a major victory this week in the fight to end her conservatorship when a judge approved her bid to hire her own legal counsel for the first time since 2008. Spears, 39, has called the legal arrangement abusive and now faces the tough task of convincing the judge she no longer needs conservators to manage her career and finances.

The pop star has promised to put her career on hold until her father, Jamie Spears, is removed from the conservatorship. Her new attorney, Mathew Rosengart, who worked as a federal prosecutor, must now prove to a Los Angeles judge that Spears is capable and healthy enough to oversee her medical decisions and estate. CBS News spoke to three legal experts on what lies ahead in the ongoing court case

Britney Spears in 2018.

Gabe Ginsberg via Getty

Prove she’s capable of managing her career

First, the attorneys representing Spears will need to file a petition to remove the conservatorship. If approved, the judge presiding over the case will schedule a hearing to determine whether the arrangement is needed. 

The conservatorship was put into place in 2008, while Spears struggled with her mental health. In order for her to end it, she must prove she is capable of caring for herself, will be able to handle her wealth and will not be at risk if the arrangement is removed, said Nina Kohn, a law professor at Syracuse University who specializes in the civil rights of those with diminished mental capacity and elder law. 

“As a practical matter, what you’re looking to show is that she can make decisions for herself,” said Kohn. “Most of us don’t make decisions in a vacuum. We look to other people we trust for help and support. So the fact that she might need support to make decisions doesn’t mean that she can’t make decisions for herself.

“The other thing you’re looking at: is she at substantial risk without the conservatorship in place? Because the mere fact that someone may have difficulty making decisions for themselves doesn’t, by itself, warrant the imposition of a conservatorship. So it’s that nexus, if you will, between what she could do and what are her needs.”

Spears would have to prove through her own testimony and the testimony of others, both family and professionals, that she has successfully managed her health and finances or has systems in place to do so after the conservatorship is lifted. Requirements differ based on judge, but a common way to prove mental aptitude is a psychiatric evaluation. Through them, clients wishing to exit conservatorship do not have to prove a baseline level of intelligence but simply show they are not a risk to themselves or other s if the conservatorship ends. 

Spears has said in previous testimony that she wants the conservatorship lifted without evaluation, as she was given several without her consent during her “Circus” stadium tour. However, if a judge requires the evaluation before releasing Spears, it could become a major sticking point. 

“It is unclear if the court is going to actually require some very burdensome psychiatric evaluation, because what gave rise to her conservatorship 13 years ago, clearly that’s changed,” said attorney Benny Roshan, who works directly with estates, trusts and conservatorships. “The court is listening to her. The court is basically allowing her to give testimony in court and support her decision, for example, to hire her own attorney, so I think that she’s going to be a key figure in her own case. So it is possible the court will just rely on her testimony in terminating conservatorship without needing a lot of substantial evidence.”

Successfully fight any objections

The singer’s desire to remove the conservatorship could, of course, be delayed by her father’s legal team. On Wednesday, Spears’ new attorney requested Jamie Spears to step down, but his attorneys declined.

If her father, or anyone on Spears’ team, objects to the removal of the conservatorship, they will be required to provide testimony and documentation supporting their claim, said University of Virginia Family Law Professor Naomi Cahn who also specializes in trusts and estates. Then, the judge would decide whether to deny Spears’ request or allow it with specific conditions.

“Once it’s clear that it’s going to be contested, which it may well be, because there seem to be people on both sides of this, then it’s set up to go on the case management system,” Cahn said.

Past attempts to remove Jamie as conservator were not successful, but others were added in the role of co-conservator. After financial group Bessemer Trust resigned following Spears’ testimony, Jamie remains the sole conservator of Spears’ estate. 

Spears has recently slammed the conservators, calling them abusive. But abuse claims won’t be enough to end the arrangement, Cahn said. 

“If conservatorship abuse is found, it would not be a reason in and of itself for ending the conservatorship,” Cahn said. “Because the conservatorship is focused on the needs of the person subject to the conservatorship, so abuse would simply mean the judge should choose another conservator.” For Spears to successfully win against objections, she must prove that she is capable without the conservatorship, and it no longer serves its intended purpose. 

File appeals if her request to end the conservatorship is denied

If her request to end the arrangement is denied, Spears will still be able to file multiple appeals, along with the option to request a new judge. The appeal would have to argue that Spears’ had provided enough burden of proof to end her conservatorship and the judge’s bias had prevented a ruling in her favor. But the judge isn’t the only one involved. 

“The court has its own internal investigators that usually assess the situation and decide and advise the court on basically what the circumstances look like,” Roshan said. “They will be relying on that probate investigators report to inform their decision.”

Spears has made it clear that she will not stop fighting to remove herself from the conservatorship. Her case and the attention around the #FreeBritney movement has also brought attention to legal conservatorships,  something that could be used to argue for more protections for conservatees, according to Kohn.

“What’s unique about this case it  that it really looks different than what people stereotypically think of as when they think of somebody subject to guardianship conservatorship, which most typically is either an older adult with progressive cognitive decline dementia or a younger adult with an intellectual or serious cognitive disability,” Kohn said. “So seeing somebody who is in what should be the prime of their life, who can clearly articulate their objection to the arrangement and the true traumatic nature of their arrangement, breaks open the issue of [conservatorships] and brings to light problems we’ve known are happening, but perhaps have not captured the public attention before.”



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