OK, she wasn't actually required to be there. Still, knowing how important Monday's custody hearing could be in the process of regaining visitation rights with her two young sons, you might think Britney Spears would actually go inside the courtroom — after all, she practically made it to the courthouse steps anyway. So why didn't she?
"I'm scared," the singer told her companions when she got out of a sport-utility vehicle at the Los Angeles courthouse. "I want to get back in the car. Let me get in the car, please."
It could be that Spears was scared of more than just the paparazzi throng at the courthouse. After all, she deals with photographers following her every day, though, lately at least, with much less patience and more anger than fear. Last weekend, in an incident in a shopping-mall parking lot that was caught on videotape, she screamed at the paparazzi, "I'm f---ing over it. Get out of my g--damn face!"
According to experts, what might have scared Spears about the Monday hearing, as well as the handful of depositions she has also skipped or left early, could have been the prospect that she'd have to start becoming a responsible mom once again. (Note: None of these people have treated or represented Spears.) By not participating or cooperating in the process to get her kids back, she might be sending a clear message to the court that she doesn't want them back. At least not right now.
"She does not seem to want to be with these kids, because she's not following the rules," New York family law attorney Joshua Forman said.
"It could be that she wants to go back to the old days where she was single and successful," suggested Dr. Jean Cirillo, a psychologist with a private practice in Huntington, New York. "She probably has very mixed feelings about doing that, and she feels guilty. 'I should want the custody for my own self and my public image. Something must be wrong with me.' "
There's an easy solution to Spears' dilemma: Let Kevin Federline have full custody of the kids, at least temporarily (which the courts have already done for her). But if Spears were scared of the public perceiving such an action as abandoning her kids, she could have worked out a private arrangement with Federline instead of escalating the situation until the court intervened.
"If a mother abandons her kids, people wonder, 'What's wrong with her?' " Cirillo said. "People assume she's selfish."
And it may not be that she's selfish — it could be a case of postpartum depression or postpartum mania that's spiraled out of control. "If someone's too depressed to think outside of themselves, it's hard to be an adequate parent," Dr. Robi Ludwig, a New York psychologist, said. "The best thing for her would be to clear the plate for a while."
So, perhaps unintentionally, Spears' possible self-sabotage might actually be healthy for her in the long run. If losing custody and visitation rights of Sean Preston and Jayden James, for at least the next month, makes her realize she now has the time and space to focus on herself, she might get healthy and seek help for whatever's ailing her. It's up to her now.
"For a woman undergoing a divorce, with custody issues, with two small children, with tremendous stress, it wouldn't be unusual to be depressed," New York psychiatrist Dr. Gail Saltz said. "Being watched going through this process makes it more difficult to get help, and it's difficult enough. She's in a tough spot now."