First Britney Spears has her kids — then she doesn't. She gets visitation rights — and then she loses them. The singer's recent child-custody dispute has been one big yo-yo, so what are the chances she'll get her two sons back at all?
Earlier this week, the singer's visitation time with her two young sons was suspended after she failed to comply with a court order. Since then, Spears has made amends and complied with the part of the court order in question, and even ex-husband Kevin Federline's attorney Mark Vincent Kaplan expects her to become involved in the lives of Sean Preston and Jayden James once again as a result.
Spears and Kevin Federline are also about to start attending co-parenting therapy sessions, as required by the court, and have begun evaluations by a third party as to the quality of their parenting skills, also as required by the court, Kaplan confirmed. Even so, legal experts expect that Spears will have to go the extra mile if she wants to see her own children without a court-appointed monitor.
"This judge has been very stringent with Britney," celebrity-divorce attorney Raoul Felder — who handled the Robin Givens/ Mike Tyson split, among many others — said of Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Scott Gordon, the judge in Spears/Federline custody dispute. "And yet, at the same time, he's actually been overly kind, and that's the problem. It's not working, because you can't just keep yanking the kids and the visitations. It's absurd."
Felder recommends that Gordon do something more drastic to get the singer's attention, like take custody away entirely until Spears goes to rehab, since Felder believes she has shown a pattern of not following the court's orders. "She's a mess," Felder said. "You can't be this dumb, this careless, this indifferent. It's as if she doesn't want the kids, she doesn't want the responsibility, because she doesn't seem to get she's had an opportunity here, even with supervision, to see her kids. And yes, if she doesn't get to see them, it'll be terrible for the kids too, but they're safer without her."
"She needs a plan," suggested Susan Reach Winters, chairperson of the Family Law Department at the New Jersey firm Budd Larner, P.C. Winters recommended that Spears not wait for the judge to require rehab but to offer to go before it becomes a court order.
"She can redeem herself," she said. "If she goes to the court and says, 'Give me a chance, judge, to show you I can exercise good judgment, and I'm not the party girl you think I am. Even though I'm not addicted, I'm going to put myself in a program, and go beyond what you think I need to do.' Because if the judge thinks she's doing drugs, even if she's not admitting a substance-abuse problem, she has to acknowledge that something's amiss and show she's willing to put herself through rehab for the sake of her children. Because she has to go beyond at this point."
Felder reiterated that Spears needs a non-celebrity rehab program, a "real boot-camp rehab," to get her back on track. Otherwise, he said, "How can she take care of the kids? She can't even take care of herself."
Winters also recommended that Spears offer explanations for why she violated previous court orders, and make it clear she's going to follow them from now on. "From the judge's perspective, if you snub your nose at what he orders, he can take your kids away," Winters said. "But if you go overboard and do exactly what the judge orders you to do, to the letter, and you're on your best behavior? He's going to do what's in the interest of the children."
In all the custody cases Felder has worked on, he said, it's "very rare" for the mother to lose custody entirely, yet he believed Federline will win in this case. "I think that will be the final decision," he said. "Kevin will get permanent custody. The options are very limited at this point. And if she doesn't go to rehab, she should just give up."
"I think ultimately they'll end up with shared parenting," Winters countered. "It takes two parents to bring a child into the world, and it takes two to raise a child. That's what the court is looking to do. That's got to be everybody's goal: joint custody. Nobody wins with sole custody, least of all the kids. And if she can show she's fit, she'll have a chance."
For a timeline of Spears' chaotic activity in recent years, check out "Britney Spears And Parenting: A Timeline Of Tumult."