Pop icon Britney Spears is scheduled to speak in court on Wednesday as part of her ongoing conservatorship case. Here's a guide to help understand why she's there and what's going on.



For the past 13 years, Britney Spears has not been in charge of her money or some basic aspects of her own life. She's in a court-mandated arrangement called a conservatorship that essentially leaves her in the care of her father. This afternoon, Britney will appear remotely at a Los Angeles Superior Court hearing to speak directly to the judge in her case. NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas has been following this story. Good morning, Anastasia.


KING: How do people typically end up in conservatorships?

TSIOULCAS: Well, typically, legal and financial conservatorships are arranged for people who aren't able to make decisions in their own best self-interest, so we're talking about situations, for example, in the case of elderly people or people with some kind of cognitive impairment.

KING: So why does a 39-year-old pop star have one of these arrangements?

TSIOULCAS: Well, Britney Spears' was put into place back in 2008 after she had a very public mental health crisis. This conservatorship controls all the major aspects of Spears' life, including decisions related to her financial, medical and personal well-being. And the conservatorship also oversees visitation arrangements with her two teenage sons, who are under the full custody of her ex-husband, Kevin Federline.

KING: But in the meantime, she has been working, right? She's out there all the time.

TSIOULCAS: Totally. She's released four albums; two of them went platinum. She also appeared as a judge on two television shows, "The X Factor" and "American Idol." And she also had a four-year concert residency in Las Vegas. And all of that doesn't exactly line up with the more typical profile of someone unable to look after themselves.

KING: And one of the interesting details here is that it is not a licensed professional who is in charge of the conservatorship; it's her father.

TSIOULCAS: Yeah, it's her dad, Jamie Spears, and that's already been a point of contention. Last fall, Britney asked for a separate wealth management company to co-run the financial side of things. Her dad objected to that in court, but the judge allowed it to move forward.

KING: Now, in the meantime, some of Britney's fans have formed a kind of protest movement, saying, essentially, this wildly successful woman, mother of two, is being held against her will, treated like she's a child. Has she responded to them or to that movement?

TSIOULCAS: Well, it's kind of murky. Earlier this year, there was a New York Times television documentary called "Framing Britney Spears" that was very sympathetic to her and to the Free Britney activists. But a couple of weeks later, Spears purportedly wrote a message on her Instagram account that said that she found the documentary really embarrassing and hurtful. Some Britney fans suspected that she didn't actually write that message herself.

KING: Do you think that might be why she wants to speak to the court directly today - so she can get a message out there in kind of a professional environment, and it's her own message?

TSIOULCAS: Possibly. It's a real possibility. And it's not just a professional message; it's a legal message, right?

KING: Yeah.

TSIOULCAS: And she may want to contest the conservatorship altogether, and I think that's part of the reason why people are looking at this so very closely.

KING: Aside from her celebrity, why do you think people are so interested in this case?

TSIOULCAS: Well, I think it points to some larger issues about control and autonomy, Noel. Thirteen years is a very long time for a grown, working woman to cede complete control over her life and give it to other people, whether they're family or not, despite, you know, complications of family dynamics or not. And apart from the particulars of her situation, I think it opens up questions about whether a mental health situation should dictate the course of one's life.

KING: OK, NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas. Thank you.

TSIOULCAS: Thanks for having me, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.