Britney Spears arrives in court

Little fanfare as she arrives for custody hearing

Britney Spears showed up at the county courthouse for a custody hearing Tuesday without the usual screaming fans, signs and banners or frenzied paparazzi chase to the parking garage.

Dozens of photographers, reporters, sheriff's deputies and prospective jurors recorded her arrival as a front-seat passenger in a white Land Rover. Then she disappeared into the garage.

It's been three months since Spears slipped away from a psychiatric ward and stirred up a paparazzi car chase, a scene that looked like the beginning of even more erratic behavior for the troubled pop star.

In the weeks that followed, she acted out of character, all right -- she lay low and avoided the cameras. She spent time with family members. She found work, and succeeded at it.

With that stability and momentum to build on, it appeared Spears' child-custody hearing had the potential for a positive outcome. Showing up was the first step.

Spears' ex-husband, Kevin Federline, arrived at the courthouse about 15 minutes after the troubled 26-year-old pop star, who has been under the conservatorship of her father since her one-week-early release from UCLA Medical Center.

Federline, in the back seat of a black Range Rover, entered the courthouse in the same driveway used by Spears. By the time Federline showed up, there were a few dozen camera-toting fans gathered on the steps of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion across the street from the courthouse.

Federline has had full custody of his two sons by Spears, Sean Preston, 2,  and Jayden James, 1, since January, when police were called to Spears' home after she refused to relinquish one of the boys to a Federline bodyguard. Spears was taken by ambulance to a hospital after the incident. Her visitation rights were suspended at the time, but have been gradually restored in recent months.

Tuesday's hearing was to include discussion of a psychiatrist's evaluation of Spears, a person close to the case told the Associated Press. The person was not authorized to speak publicly about the case and requested anonymity.

Commissioner Scott Gordon, who was to preside over the hearing, could modify the couple's visitation agreement Tuesday based on Spears' recent conduct, the person said.

Spears was a constant media presence before the conservatorship took effect. Photographers captured her every visit to Starbucks and gas stations around Los Angeles, and documented a bout of bizarre behavior that included appearing in public without underwear, shaving her own head and beating a car with an umbrella.

Since Spears' father, James, took over her affairs, the pop star has been relatively invisible to photographers, only occasionally snapped shopping or having dinner with her mother, Lynne. A traffic accident last month turned out to be a minor bumper-to-bumper incident in which no one was injured, and for which no one was cited.

Spears' public appearances have been limited to a well-received cameo on CBS' "How I Met Your Mother," a role she reprised during a taping last week, a CBS spokeswoman said. The episode is set to air May 12.

"We're thrilled to have Britney joining us once again," series executive producer and co-creator Craig Thomas said in a statement last month. The show's audience increased by a million viewers the week Spears appeared.

The pop star also made news last month when she took on full-time exercise and nutrition coaches from Bally Total Fitness. Once known for her flawless figure, Spears was widely ridiculed for her flabby form in September during a universally panned performance on the MTV Video Music Awards that was meant to herald her comeback.

Spears has been elusive at recent court hearings, her every anticipated appearance drawing a circus of media and paparazzi. In January, she arrived at the courthouse wearing cocktail-party attire -- a black minidress and gold platform shoes -- and left before the custody hearing began. A lawyer for Federline said that behavior may have played a role in the commissioner's decision that she remain barred from seeing her sons. Federline has allowed Spears limited visitation rights since Feb. 22.