Britney Spears was dealt quite a blow Monday when a Los Angeles judge ordered her to hand over her children to her ex-husband (see "Britney Spears Ordered To Give Up Custody Of Her Children"). But legal experts agree: The singer can win them back if she's willing to follow some advice, even if it means going to rehab.
"I think she blew it," said celebrity-divorce attorney Raoul Felder, who handled the Robin Givens/ Mike Tyson split, among many others. "She should have lost custody the first time around. Still, if she checks into the toughest rehab — the one with the worst reputation for coddling people, a real rehab, not Promises — and she sticks it out, she could have another shot."
"She's going to have to take a page out of the Lindsay Lohan book," agreed Fox News analyst Kimberly Guilfoyle. "Britney will be able to get her children back — if she gets treatment."
The problem is, Spears has resisted and rebelled against efforts to put her in rehab, despite her stays at the Crossroads Centre, a rehab facility on the Caribbean island of Antigua, and Promises Malibu Alcohol and Drug Rehab Treatment Facility in Southern California earlier this year. Her first two efforts lasted less than a day each (see "Britney Spears Leaves Rehab; Federline Requests Emergency Hearing"), but she did undergo a month-long program at Promises — only to disparage it.
"Like, my management totally knew what they were doing when they sent me to rehab," she said, in a mock-Valley Girl voice, after playfully grabbing a paparazzo's camera and filming herself with it in April. "Till this day I don't think it was alcohol or depression," she wrote on her Web site in May (see "Britney Spears Admits 'I Was So Lost' In Online Letter"). "I was like a bad kid running around with ADD. I had a manager from a long time ago try to come in and direct me and my life after I got my divorce. ... I think it is actually normal for a young girl to go out after a huge divorce."
Normal behavior or not, addiction or no — divorce attorney Lois Liberman of New York firm Blank Rome said that Spears needs to check into rehab now to show the court she means business. "This is an emergency," said Liberman, who handled the Donald Trump/ Marla Maples divorce. "Even if the court is wrong and she's right, it doesn't matter. She has to show she's placing the children as her top priority and she'll do anything to keep them and keep them safe."
It's actually unusual for the courts to award custody to the father, according to matrimonial attorney Seymour Reisman, a partner in the Garden City, New York, firm Reisman Peirez & Reisman. "Fathers are awarded custody less than 20 percent of the time," he said.
"You have women with criminal records and convictions who are drug addicted, and they don't get their kids taken away," Guifoyle said. "The courts favor the mother."
It wasn't so long ago that Federline was widely considered a bad father himself, but Felder believes Spears has only herself to blame for the shift in perception. "She must have wanted this to happen on some level," Felder said. "She can't be that stupid when the judge has been laying it all out for her, what he wants to see (goto 'Britney Spears Lost Custody Because 'She Didn't Follow The Rules,' Source Says'). But he says not to drive, and she drives. He says not to party, and she parties. Now she's backed into a corner.
"If I were her lawyer," Felder continued, "I'd hold off on these hearings. Her credibility is at stake. No judge is going to trust her."
"It's going to take a lot of time to win back the trust," Liberman said. 'It's going to take a lot of baby steps."
Rehab would only be the first of those steps. Coming out of a rehab program, Spears would need a sponsor — as well as a hired sober companion — and would need to attend meetings to demonstrate her sobriety to the court, which would set up a procedure for her supervised visits with her children during the interim.
"How embarassing would that be that you can't be with your own children without being supervised?" Liberman said. "If that's not a wake-up call, I don't know what is. It could be either Kevin supervising, or an arm of the court. There are services you can hire for this. That's the thing that actually makes it easier for Britney: She can afford a facility. She can afford a companion."
Liberman estimated that Spears would be allowed one-to-two-hour supervised visits before she could build to longer stays such as overnights or weekends, and it would take at least three months of testing clean before the court would consider allowing Spears unsupervised visits with her children. "The court is going to err on the side of caution now," Liberman said. "It will be a gradual opening of the floodgates. But the court's goal is to reunite the family in some fashion."
A temporary order such as the one the judge issued Monday in Spears' case could last anywhere from two weeks to two years, estimated Los Angeles family lawyer Kelly Y. Chang. "If I represented Britney, I would tell her the ruling was very bad for you, but all is not lost," Chang said. "But if you don't shape up, the temporary order will become the final order.
"She needs to be an angel until this whole custody battle is over."
"The only other thing Britney can do right now is pray," agreed Felder. "The power of prayer. Get a good rabbi. That's about it. Otherwise, ballgame over."
For more on Britney's child-custody setback, check out:
· "Britney Spears Seems To Be Drowning In Troubles, So Why Won't She Listen To Anyone?"
· "Britney Spears' Custody Loss Met With Sympathy From Fans, But Not Surprise"
· 'Things Are Looking Really Bad' For Britney Spears, SuChin Pak Says"
· "Britney Spears, Bad Parent? Perez Hilton, 'Leave Britney Alone!' Guy Weigh In"