Unlike Britney Spears' previous custody hearings, the embattled pop star's arrival Tuesday morning (May 6) at the Los Angeles County courthouse was punctual and without much of the usual ballyhoo. There were no adoring fans wielding signs of support, and as her white Land Rover sped into the adjoining parking garage, the paparazzi, who have built a career on mobbing her, failed to give chase.
But a crush of reporters lingered outside the courthouse, awaiting word on what — if anything — would come of the hearing, which got under way shortly after 9:30 a.m., after media were asked to leave the courtroom, following the granting of a motion to close the court. The purpose of the hearing was to provide the court with a progress review, during which an assessment of a psychiatrist's evaluation of Spears was expected, along with a discussion of the couple's current custody arrangement.
While he wouldn't reveal specifics, Mark Vincent Kaplan — the attorney representing Spears' ex-husband Kevin Federline in his ongoing custody battle with Spears — did disclose that an adjustment to the couple's current custody arrangement had been made by Commissioner Scott Gordon.
"The court made orders today — orders that [both] parties were able to agree to — and it represents a step going forward, a cautious step but a step nonetheless," Kaplan told reporters after the hearing wrapped. "We are pleased with the progress that seems to be occurring. I never have, and don't want, to speak to what the custodial timeshare is, but obviously, it's something more than it has been."
Federline has had sole legal and physical custody of the couple's two sons, 2-year-old Sean Preston and 1-year-old Jayden James, since January 3, the night Spears was hospitalized after refusing to turn the children over to her ex. After failing to regain custody twice, Spears was granted restricted, monitored visitation in late February and visited her sons February 23 for about three hours. Spears has been under the conservatorship of her father, Jamie, since her release from UCLA Medical Center back on February 6. She was involuntarily committed to the facility and was released after only a week.
"The order that was in place has remained in place, with the exception that there has been some graduated expansion of time," Kaplan continued. "Other than that, nothing has been changed with respect to the ongoing order. The expansion of time is reflected in the orders."
Kaplan said the modification came in response to the progress Spears has been making in recent months, and "consistency over time, with respect to structure and stability, is something that would be welcomed by [Federline]."
Recently, Spears has seemingly turned her troubled image around, keeping a relatively low profile and even landing some well-received acting gigs. She is set to reprise her role as Abby the receptionist on CBS' "How I Met Your Mother" on May 12. Several have attributed the shift in Spears' behavior to her parents, who've taken a more active role in the singer's life in recent months — and Kaplan seemed to agree with that assessment.
"I think that we all know that over the last few months, what was seemingly a daily situation in extreme flux has been stabilized," he explained. "We see that there are not daily events occurring that made it very difficult to have any kind of grounding or believing that an environment that was best for the children was going to be consistent over both homes. We hope and look forward to seeing additional progress with [Spears]. ... We have always said Kevin's goal and hope is that his children will have the benefit of having two parents participating actively in their lives. When that will occur, I can't tell you that."
The next hearing in the couple's custody case — another progress review — has been scheduled for July 15.
While custody details remain sealed, TMZ.com cited anonymous sources "close to the case" as saying that Spears will get three days of supervised visitation each week, and that she'll be able to spend Mothers' Day with her sons.
On Tuesday, Spears arrived wearing a brown polka-dot dress, with a small sweater over the top, according to The Associated Press. At her side were her parents and one of her lawyers, Blair Berk. Meanwhile, Federline arrived on time, in a cream-colored suit.
Allan Parachini, the director of public information for the Los Angeles County court system, read a statement not from Gordon, but from Spears' parents, Jamie and Lynn. "We are so pleased with Britney's progress, and we are very appreciative of the court's recognition of this progress," it read. Parachini said he was barred from speaking in detail about the modification in custody, but said that, during a hearing that would be held sometime in August, Gordon would "review how the modified custody arrangement has evolved."
Eliot Mintz, Federline's press agent, said that he spoke to his client soon after the hearing ended, and "he is extremely pleased with the way things went today, and at the end of this saga, everyone involved seems to be hoping and believing that there will be two children raised in the company of two people who love them."
Before the hearing began, Gordon swore all the parties involved in, by asking them to raise their right hands and state their names. Spears simply stated her name as "Britney," at which point Gordon said he'd need "her full name." She complied, saying, "Britney Spears." Gordon then granted a motion to close the court and asked reporters to leave.
About an hour into the hearing, Gordon took a quick recess, during which Spears was seen outside of the courtroom, visibly upset, her eyes watery. While she wasn't crying in the hallway, it appears as though she may have been crying inside the court. Several minutes later, Spears emerged again, holding Berk's hand and appearing as if she had been sobbing. Gordon called for a break around 10:40 a.m. so he could hear other cases.
[This story was originally published at 4:49 pm E.T. on 5.6.2008]