On Friday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny will preside over another hearing that may decide the fate of Spears’ conservatorship. Over the last several months, the pop star has grown more vocal about her desire to escape the confines of what she sees as an abusive system that has stripped her of autonomy over her life and roughly $60 million estate.
Yet, despite her objections to the conservatorship, much of Spears’ money has gone to maintaining the conservatorship’s scaffolding.
James Spears, Britney’s father, was removed as conservator of her estate in late September. Up until that point, his fees were paid out of her pockets.
Towards the end of his tenure, Spears was paid roughly $16,000 per month to serve as conservator, in addition to $2,000 per month for office space, per court documents filed by Britney Spears’ attorney. James Spears also took cuts out of Britney Spears’ “Femme Fatale” tour and “Piece of Me” Las Vegas residency, the New York Times reported over the summer.
Britney Spears used to also cover James Spears’ court fees, even as the father and daughter were at legal loggerheads. Now, Spears’ former attorneys are seeking more than $1 million—and it’s not yet settled who’ll pay for that bill.
Lawyers for Britney Spears have also suggested that James Spears signed the singer up for at least one bad business deal.. In an August court filing, Mathew Rosengart, Britney Spears’ recently appointed attorney, accused James Spears of approving a $300,000 payment to Britney Spears’ former business manager. That $300,000 “payment was not due to any extra duties or work performed” by the manager, Rosengart alleged, and came on top of another $200,000 payment.
Rosengart has called for an investigation.
“There has been an evident dissipation of assets of Ms. Spears’s estate, and that dissipation is ongoing,” he wrote.
In response to Rosengart’s filing, James Spears’ legal team alleged that the financial accusations should be dealt with in a separate proceeding—not used as justification to speed up James Spears’ removal as conservator. In a filing, the team also alluded to the fact that, when the conservatorship was instituted, Britney Spears was in the grip of a deeply public breakdown and mental health struggles that threatened to torpedo her career entirely.
“For over thirteen years, Mr. Spears has dutifully and faithfully served as the conservator of his daughter’s estate without any blemishes on his record,” the filing reads. “This is not an opinion; he has taken the estate from being in debt and facing tens of millions of dollars of lawsuits to a current value of well over $60 million.”
Still, Britney Spears alleges that she’s had access to just a fraction of that money. In his filing, Rosengart said that James Spears’ $16,000 salary is about $2,000 more than he allotted to his daughter. Plus, James Spears allegedly recently tried to shut down Britney’s attempt to take a short vacation.
Before his ouster, James Spears had agreed to step down—and ultimately started to advocate for the end of the conservatorship entirely. That 180-degree turnaround has raised eyebrows, as it may be part of a maneuver to avoid further scrutiny into his handling of his daughter.
There are other parties who are also seeking money from Britney Spears, including attorneys for Britney’s mother Lynne Spears, the New York Times reported. Rosengart is also starting to arrange to be paid for his services. Those matters will likely be dealt with in a December hearing.
In July, George Howard, a professor of music business management at the Berklee College of Music, told VICE News that if Spears’ estate sounds small for one of the most iconic pop stars of all time, that may be due to the conservatorship.
“It’d be interesting to see how much she’s generating and then how much of that gross money has been reduced by all of these people that have been kind of living off of her earnings, potentially,” Howard said. “If there is a discrepancy, it’s probably because of the amount of people that are taking a percentage of her income before it hits her bank account. For most other artists, it’s that they just ended up having to sign the deal that some would contend is extortion.”
The conservatorship has potentially drained Spears’ coffers in another way: She’s stopped working. This summer, Spears declared on Instagram, “For those of you who choose to criticize my dancing videos ... look I'm not gonna be performing on any stages anytime soon with my dad handling what I wear, say, do, or think!!!!”
Spears, infamously, put a halt to a Las Vegas residency that would’ve seen her net at least $135,000 a night, according to Forbes. She also hasn’t released an album since 2016. Her last tour was in 2018. She’s now widely believed to be retiring.
The Friday hearing is set to begin at 1:30 p.m. Los Angeles time. No parties have registered any objection to ending the conservatorship.
“Ms. Spears has made her wishes known about ending the conservatorship she has endured for so long and she has pleaded with this Court to ‘let her have her life back,’” Rosengart wrote in a filing last month. “It is respectfully submitted—with the consent of all parties—that the time has come.”