This week is shaping up to be another tough one for Britney Spears. On Monday alone, the singer parted ways with her lawyer and her manager — right in the middle of her battle for custody of her children. That battle is now requiring Spears to undergo random drug testing and counseling, court papers reveal.
Ever since the singer’s VMA performance on September 9, Spears has been caught in a freefall. With her “comeback” a backfire, she’s left trying to set up her yet-untitled next album (due November 13) as she fights ex-husband Kevin Federline for custody of the couple’s two children, Sean Preston and Jayden James.
That fight isn’t going well — Spears suffered a series of setbacks in her child-custody dispute during a closed hearing at Los Angeles Superior Court on Monday, when Commissioner Scott Gordon found that “there is a habitual, frequent and continuous use” of controlled substances and alcohol, and ordered the singer to undergo twice-weekly random testing. The results of the drug tests, which are to be conducted at Spears’ expense, are to be filed under seal and will not be made public. But both Spears and Federline were ordered to abstain from alcohol and nonprescription medication during and for 12 hours immediately preceding any period either has the children in his or her custody.
Spears is also to undergo individual counseling at least once a week (with a therapist to be determined within 10 days) and meet with a parenting coach for a minimum of eight hours a week, in at least two sessions a week. The coach is to be determined by both Spears’ and Federline’s lawyers within five days, and if they can’t agree upon one, they’re to propose a list of three and the court will decide for them. The parenting coach is to file a written progress report by October 22 and appear at the next custody court date.
Spears and Federline were also both ordered to enroll in a Parenting Without Conflict program within five days or, in lieu of that, to seek help from a mental-health professional. In addition to that program, Spears and Federline must participate in joint co-parenting counseling, for which they are to share the costs, and were ordered to select a therapist within five days. If the former couple can’t agree upon a therapist, like the situation with the parenting coach, they’re to propose a list of three and the court will decide for them.
Spears and Federline also face new rules for their interactions with each other, their children and their children’s caregivers. Neither is allowed to take the children out of the state without prior written consent of the other parent or the court; use corporal punishment (or to allow anyone else to do so); or make derogatory remarks about the other, the other’s family or the other’s significant other (or allow anyone else to do so) in front of the children. Caregivers must be certified by the American Red Cross in Infant and Child CPR and know basic first aid, or get certification immediately. And if a caregiver should be hired or fired, the other parent is to be notified within 24 to 48 hours.
Some of these orders could be due to a “secret witness” — who turned out to be one of the singer’s ex-bodyguards, Tony Barretto — who came forward on Monday to file a declaration to the court on “issues of nudity by Ms. Spears, drug use and safety issues involving the children post-rehab,” according to his attorney, Gloria Allred. He was employed by Spears after she left rehab in March (see “Britney Spears Leaves Rehab” ) until May 17, when he claims he was fired for failing to pick up the singer’s hat, an order he has said he failed to hear. Neither Spears nor Federline attended the hearing.
Spears’ attorney chose not to cross-examine Barretto, so the ex-bodyguard did not take the stand. “Since neither the court nor Ms. Spears’ attorney chose to examine our client from the witness stand regarding the particulars of his highly explosive and relevant declaration, it stands unrefuted and unchallenged,” Allred told reporters outside the courthouse.
Don’t expect much more information to be leaked in the custody case, however. Commissioner Gordon also decided in an order filed Monday that “in the best interest of the children,” who face “an immediate threat to [their] safety” as well as “unnecessary embarrassment and stigma,” the records would be redacted, or edited, and sealed. Some of the information to be deleted from court papers include addresses related to the children, their activities and their care; the mental and physical health issues of Spears, Federline and the children; the dates and locations for exchanges of custody relating to visitation; and specific custody and visitation schedules. Spears and Federline’s current 50/50 custody arrangement remains for now.
Though her (now former) divorce attorney Laura Wasser defended her client outside the courthouse on Friday, telling reporters, “I think [Britney] just wants to be a mom,” she has stopped defending the singer inside the courtroom as of Monday. Wasser confirmed to MTV News that she’s no longer representing Spears, who has since found a new lawyer in Marci Levine, according to Levine’s office.
Shortly after Wasser resigned, Spears’ management company, the Firm, quit as well, after repping the singer for little over a month. “It saddens us to confirm media reports that we have terminated our professional relationship with Britney Spears,” read a statement from the company. “We believe Britney is enormously talented and has made a terrific record, but current circumstances have prevented us from properly doing our job. We wish Britney the best.” (Spears currently has no personal representation either. Her former rep, Leslie Sloane, tells MTV News, “I haven’t worked with her since June.”)
Meanwhile, the level of absurdity surrounding the Spears/Federline saga reached a new height with reports of an alleged contract hit on Federline’s life, which surfaced Monday. According to the FBI’s Los Angeles office, a “non-specific,” “low-credibility” and “uncorroborated” threat on Federline’s life was received. “Since there was no federal jurisdiction, we shared the information with the local authorities,” FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller told MTV News. “We take every threat seriously. But there was no specificity, no corroboration, and it could not be substantiated.”
A representative for the LAPD, who seemed to take the threat a little less seriously, laughed when asked about it, telling MTV News, “We do not have a current investigation.”
Federline’s rep had no official comment, but his lawyer Mark Vincent Kaplan told reporters outside the courthouse on Monday, “Until I see what the alleged threat was, I can’t speak to that.” Kaplan also said he didn’t see a quick end to the custody dispute, since the next hearing isn’t set until November 26, with another court date to follow in December. “I don’t see it being resolved before that time,” he said.
[This story was originally published at 2:57 p.m. ET on 09.18.2007]