Divorce and Conservatorship: How Does It Work?

For the better part of 2021, one of the top news stories involved Britney Spears and her ongoing battle to free herself from a conservatorship she had been under since 2008. With legal support and the help of public outcry, Britney was able to finally end her conservatorship late last year.

What Is a Conservatorship?

A conservatorship gives conservators court-ordered power to manage the financial affairs of people who the court has found are not capable of handling those affairs themselves. People can have conservatorships for a wide variety of reasons, including:

  • A person becomes incapacitated because of an accident or due to an illness (examples include stroke and coma victims)
  • A person becomes incapacitated because of a disease (most commonly Alzheimer’s or dementia)
  • A person suffers from a physical or mental disability
  • A person has financial responsibilities that they are not mentally or physically capable of taking care of at their age (the elderly and minors)
  • A person suffers from drug addiction or alcoholism

Conservatorships can be a very helpful tool for protecting the financial interests of those who can’t handle taking care of their financial affairs themselves. However, conservatorships also have their downside.

What Are the Disadvantages of Conservatorships?

As the Britney Spears situation demonstrated, the first and most obvious disadvantage of conservatorships is that they are very difficult to have ended. Other disadvantages of conservatorships include:

  • A person may not get the conservator they would’ve chosen. This is because the court decides who will be a person’s conservator.
  • A person’s family may not approve of the individual chosen as their family member’s conservator. This could be because the court chose a family member that some of the other family members don’t like to be the conservator. In many cases, it’s an issue that can lead to conflict and infighting, with other family members arguing they should’ve been the one who was chosen as the conservator.
  • Conservatorships can last for the rest of the person under the conservatorship’s life. Although, there are situations where conservatorships can be ended. For example, let’s say a person is under a conservatorship because of alcoholism or a drug addiction. If that person enters recovery and they prove to the court they can handle the responsibility of taking care of their finances again, their conservatorship may be ended.
  • The conservatorship process is expensive, difficult to administer, and involves a seemingly endless number of court proceedings. Conservatorships are tough. The conservator takes on the burden of being responsible for another person’s financial affairs, and the person under the conservatorship (assuming they’re not incapacitated or otherwise incapable of understanding the situation) must accept being stripped of control of their finances, which can be a hard pill to swallow, even if you know it’s for the best.

In addition to the above, another difficulty that a conservatorship can cause is making it harder to get a divorce.

How Does Divorce Work If My Spouse or I Have a Conservator?

Right before she had her conservatorship ended, Britney Spears got engaged to longtime partner Sam Asghari after five years of dating. This begs the question: did they wait to get engaged until they were certain Britney was about to have her conservatorship ended? If so, is there something about conservatorships that make marriage more difficult than it already is? While we cannot be sure of the answer to the first question, the answer to the second question is a resounding yes.

Conservatorships add difficulties to every aspect of marriage, from getting married to being married to ending a marriage. In fact, ending a marriage where one or both spouses have a conservator can be the most difficult task of them all.

When a divorce involves a conservator, here are some problematic scenarios that can arise:

  • A person wants to divorce a spouse who is incapacitated and under a conservatorship.
  • A person who is under a conservatorship wants to divorce their spouse.
  • A conservator attempts to force a person under a conservatorship to divorce their spouse.
  • Two people who are both under conservatorships want to divorce each other.
  • A person who is their spouse’s conservator wants a divorce or vice versa.

In each of the scenarios above, the conservator would be heavily involved in the divorce process, including participating in negotiations concerning the division of marital property, alimony, child custody, and child support.

In addition to participating in divorce negotiations, in divorces involving a conservatorship, the conservator will often have to sign the divorce agreement as well. The exception to this is if the conservator and a person under a conservatorship are divorcing one another. In that case, another conservator would have to be assigned to the person under the conservatorship before the divorce process could begin.

Questions About the Divorce Process? Our Experienced Divorce Lawyers Can Help

If you’re facing a complication with your divorce, such as a conservatorship, you need legal guidance you can trust to get the job done. The experienced legal team at Levi Divorce & Family Law Attorneys has a history of successfully handling the legal complexities of a wide range of family law matters. We don’t do this for the money. We’re dedicated to giving our all to our clients and helping them avoid the pitfalls of the divorce process, so that they can find a path to a brighter future. For those reasons, we only take cases we believe in, and you can rely on us to work side-by-side with you and protect your rights through the life of your case.

To schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with us to discuss your situation, fill out our online contact form or call us at (718) 215-0121. We’re available to take your call 24/7, and we offer same-day appointments.