Britney Spears may be losing her fan base, but now, as her latest misadventures spill into Los Angeles Superior Court, the tabloids are asking: could she also lose her kids? Like many divorcing moms, Spears is trying to hammer out a permanent custody arrangement with her ex, dancer Kevin Federline, the father of her two sons, Sean Preston, 2, and one-year-old Jayden James.
Currently, Spears, 25, and Federline, 29, split physical custody of the children. Unlike with most moms, though, her celebrity—and, lately, notoriety—has become an issue. Yesterday her former bodyguard Tony Barretto charged that while he was employed by Spears she regularly appeared naked in front of the children and used drugs while they were in her care. “He became very concerned about the children and their safety,” Barretto’s lawyer told reporters yesterday.
How do judges decide? In most states the judge who presides over a custody negotiation begins each case with two presumptions: that children need contact with both parents, and that both mom and dad are fit to raise their own kids. A judge then figures out who should get physical custody and who has decision-making power over the child’s life— usually the parent who gets physical custody. The formula a judge uses for determining who gets the kids is straightforward: whichever parent shows sufficiently strong judgment to protect the health and safety of the child. But the calculations, especially when it comes to celebrity parents like these ones, are anything but simple.
You won’t lose custody for being famous—or infamous—even if you’re famous for being odd. “The job of the judge is to figure out what the public persona of the celebrity is, what’s just for the benefit of the press, and what kind of job that person is doing as a parent,” says Gregg Herman, a family practitioner in Milwaukee and chair of the American Bar Association’s Family Law section. So that means prancing around with a snake, or kissing Madonna on internationally televised awards shows, shouldn’t affect her chances of getting custody of her Sean and Jayden.
Being erratic, though (Spears shaved her head in public, was filmed bashing paparazzi cars with a golf club and got chucked out of swanky hotels for smearing food on her face), can hurt. At a certain point this kind of bad behavior “can indicate a personality or psychiatric disorder,” says Herman. “That will certainly, in a judge’s mind, affect what he or she thinks may be in best interest of the child.”