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Professor Nina Kohn: Britney Spears’ Case Has Shown Why Guardianship Laws Need to Change

Posted on Thursday 8/19/2021
Nina Kohn

(The Guardian | Aug. 18, 2021) Around the world, fans of pop star Britney Spears celebrated her father’s announcement last week that he would resign as her conservator. This development is welcome news for Spears and her supporters, dubbed the #FreeBritney movement. 

But it will not end Spears’ conservatorship, which has prevented her from making decisions about her own life since it was established shortly after she had a mental breakdown in 2008. Nor will it prevent others from finding themselves in similar situations. That will require changing the underlying legal systems that created Spears’ predicament.

While many have only recently learned of conservatorship thanks to the #FreeBritney movement, this legal process is neither new nor unique to the US. It is a common court proceeding in which the court appoints someone to make decisions for individuals the court has found cannot make decisions for themselves. California – where Spears lives – calls this proceeding conservatorship and calls the appointee a conservator. 

More commonly, it is called guardianship and the appointee is called a guardian. While Spears has drawn attention to guardianship, the process typically entangles those far less privileged. Changes in the pop star’s situation , as welcome as they may be, won’t themselves trigger the reform of a legal mechanism mainly experienced by people society has historically treated as expendable ...

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