The hits keep coming for Britney Spears, but not the kind that will put platinum records on her walls.
A court commissioner in Spears’ child custody dispute called the 25-year-old pop star a “habitual” user in ordering her to undergo random drug and alcohol testing. The question is, does the order come soon enough — and is it strong enough — to keep Spears from losing her two young sons to ex-husband Kevin Federline?
It couldn’t have come at a worse time for Spears, who is trying to recover from a series of image-crippling events that include a bizarre head-shaving in February and a ridiculed performance at the MTV Video Music Awards.
On Monday, Superior Court Commissioner Scott M. Gordon 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 said there was evidence Spears engaged in “habitual, frequent and continuous use of controlled substances and alcohol.”
He also ordered Spears, but not Federline, to undergo random drug and alcohol testing twice a week, according to court documents.
“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.”’
A phone message left for Federline’s attorney, Mark Kaplan, was not immediately returned Wednesday.
Is Britney bound to fail?
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.
The judge did say Spears must meet eight hours a week with a parenting coach, who will observe her with her children and report back to the court.
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.
All of this has made Federline, 29, look — at least publicly — like the stable parent. It’s an interesting change of public identities for Spears, the former Mousketeer, and Federline, the dancer and wannabe thuggish rapper.
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-Bikin said. “It’s not a good time to screw around.”