After listening to Britney Spears and both of her parents speak in an unusual court appearance, a judge has ordered an expert evaluation of the 37-year-old singer's situation, the Associated Press reported Friday.
The courtroom was cleared of members of the public and media Friday before Spears and her parents were brought in through a side door to discuss her conservatorship, which has put control of nearly all of her affairs in the hands of her father, Jamie Spears.
After the hearing, Judge Brenda Penny ordered a so-called 730 expert evaluation, a competence examination that is usually used for parents in divorce cases.
It's not clear whether the examination relates to Spears' relationship to her two sons or her parents' oversight of her.
Penny says in her order that both Spears and her parents agreed to the evaluation.
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. Only a few determined fans and passers-by caught glimpses of her.
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 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.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Britney Spears appears in court over conservatorship, judge orders evaluation