Spears ordered to clean up act
EmptyThe hits keep coming for Britney Spears but they aren't the ones that will help put platinum records on her walls.
Spears' downward spiral took another twist when a court commissioner ordered the 25-year-old, one-time princess of pop music to undergo random drug and alcohol testing twice a week as part of a child custody dispute with ex-husband Kevin Federline.
This week's ruling couldn't come at a worse time professionally for Spears, who is trying to recover from a series of image-crippling events that include a bizarre head-shaving incident in February (captured by paparazzi photographers) to her widely ridiculed performance earlier this month at MTV's Video Music Awards.
Now, a judge has intervened and told Spears to clean up her act, which he said includes evidence of "habitual, frequent and continuous use of controlled substances and alcohol."
The question is, does the order come soon enough, and is it strong enough, to keep Spears from losing custody of her two young sons to ex-husband Federline.
"If she were to violate the order, she would be really stupid," said Lynne Gold-Bikin, a family law attorney in Pennsylvania and former chair of the American Bar Association Family Law Section. "Reading between the lines, I think the judge is saying, 'I think you can stop it, pull yourself back."'
Attorney Sorrell Trope said in a statement that he was in the process of being retained by Spears and could not comment on the case. A phone message left for Federline's attorney, Mark Kaplan, was not immediately returned Wednesday.
Superior Court Commissioner Scott M. Gordon, who issued his order Monday, required both Spears and Federline to refrain from drinking or using drugs either in the presence of their children or within 12 hours before taking charge of them.
He also ordered Spears, but not Federline, to undergo random drug and alcohol testing twice a week, according to court documents.
Absent from the order was a requirement that Spears undergo rehabilitation and substance abuse counseling, possibly indicating that her problem isn't severe enough to affect her parenting skills. Without that provision, however, experts say Spears may be bound to fail.
"People tend to backslide in those situations, and once you get into habits and patterns, it's tough to change," said University of Southern California sociologist Julie Albright. "The stakes have been set very high for a relapse."
The judge did say Spears must meet eight hours a week with a parenting coach, who will observe and report back to the court about her parenting skills.
Both parents are prohibited from making derogatory remarks about each other in their children's presence, and from using corporal punishment to discipline them.
Each must complete the court's "Parenting Without Conflict" class. The educational program, set in a group format and comprised of six sessions, helps parents learn the benefits of cooperative parenting, conflict resolution and problem solving.
Spears married Federline in October 2004. She filed for divorce last November and it became official in July. The two have joint custody of their sons -- Sean Preston, 2, and Jayden James, 1 -- but Federline is seeking a greater share of custody.
It's been a rough week for Spears as she prepares for the release of a new album in November. She was dropped by her management company, parted ways with her attorney, and a former bodyguard was prepared to testify in the custody dispute about alleged drug use, nudity and safety issues he said he observed in Spears' company.
All of this has made Federline, 29, look, at least publicly, like the more stable parent. It has been an interesting change of public identities for Spears, who as a child was a Disney Mousketeer, and Federline, the dancer and rapper who was once characterized as a hanger-on.
Observers said Spears doesn't have much room to make any more mistakes, given that the court has now taken notice of her actions.
"She is visible, always under the microscope," Gold-Bilkin said. "It's not a good time to screw around."