LOS ANGELES — After hearing Britney Spears and her parents speak in a rare and secretive joint court appearance Friday, a judge ordered an expert evaluation in the conservatorship that for 11 years has put control of much of the 37-year-old singer's life in the control of her father.
Only the few left inside know what the three said in the courtroom that was closed to public and media shortly after the hearing began. But Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny wrote in an order afterward that all had agreed on a so-called 730 expert evaluation, a process usually used to determine the mental health and competence of a parent in a divorce case.
It was not made clear who would be examined, and whether it would relate to Spears' relationship to her two sons or her parents' oversight of her.
Spears' ex-husband Kevin Federline has custody of their boys, 13-year-old Sean and 12-year-old Jayden, who have frequent visits with their mother.
Spears' personal attorney Samuel D. Ingham rose at the start of the hearing as many reporters and a handful of fans sat in the audience to say that Spears had requested the proceedings so she could speak to the court, and asked that the room be cleared because personal finances and her minor children would be discussed.
Penny agreed, and Spears and her parents were sneaked in through side doors when the court was empty. They left the same way, and when the courtroom was reopened the hearing was over.
For years, Spears has been publicly silent about the severe restrictions on her decisions put in place by the conservatorship established in 2008, when she was having serious personal and psychiatric struggles, many of which played out in public.
Conservatorship, known in many states as guardianship, is an involuntary status usually reserved for very elderly or very ill people who are suffering from dementia or otherwise incapacitated and unable to make decisions for themselves.
Rarely is it used for people as functional as Spears, who despite further problems — she has said in interviews that she struggles with bipolar disorder — has seen her career continue to thrive.
That has brought speculation that at some point she would ask a judge to end her special status.
Outside the courthouse, about 20 Spears fans protested with signs that read "Free Britney" and "End the conservatorship now."
The appearance of Spears' 66-year-old father Jamie Spears was something of a surprise because he had been in such ill health in recent months that his daughter put her career on hold, delaying the start of a Las Vegas residency, so she could be with him.
Spears mother, Lynne Spears, who is divorced from Jamie Spears, has had no role in the conservatorship, but this week got special permission from Penny to be part of Friday's hearing.
Britney Spears doesn't normally attend the hearings on her status.
Her parents' situations along with the departure from the case of the lawyer who long served as Jamie Spears' co-executor seemed to suggest significant changes might be coming in the legal arrangement.
But Penny has not indicated she is inclined to make any major moves, and ordered another status hearing for September.
In the same court building on Wednesday, a judge granted Spears a temporary restraining order against Sam Lutfi, a man who once claimed to be her manager and has been in legal fights with her family for a decade.
Spears alleged that Lutfi had been sending harassing and threatening texts to Spears' family, disparaging them on social media and seeking to undermine her conservatorship.
A judge ordered the 44-year-old Lutfi to stay at least 200 yards from Spears and her family.
Lutfi's attorney said the decision was disappointing and violated Lutfi's constitutional rights.