LOS ANGELES Britney Spears will have expanded visits with her sons following a child-custody hearing that went off without a hitch Tuesday, capping a three-month period of relative calm and stability for the troubled pop star and mother of two.
The longer visits are "recognition of the progress that has been made, a progress in structure and stability," said Mark Vincent Kaplan, lawyer for Spears' ex-husband Kevin Federline. At a post-hearing press conference, Kaplan said Federline retains custody of 2-year-old Sean Preston and 1-year-old Jayden James, but that Spears would be allowed to see them for longer periods.
Surrounded by lawyers and her parents, Spears smiled slightly, looked straight ahead and did not respond to questions as she left the hearing, which was closed to reporters. Federline left a few minutes later, smiled at everyone, but also did not comment.
"We are so pleased with Britney's progress and we are very appreciative of the court's recognition of this progress," Spears' parents, Jamie and Lynne Spears, said in a statement read by court spokesman Allan Parachini.
Federline spokesman Elliot Mintz said his client is "extremely pleased with the way things went today."
Kaplan said one of the major changes is that "there are not daily events" to undermine the situation, and that he expected to see further progress from Spears. He said "the children are doing great," adding that Federline hopes they will one day have a more constant relationship with their mother.
"Consistently, we've said that Kevin's goal and hope is that his children will have the benefit sometime in the future of having two parents actively participating in their lives," he said.
A hearing was set for July 15 to get a progress report on the new arrangement.
It was clear from the beginning that Tuesday's hearing would be different from past courthouse spectacles, which included screaming fans with banners, frenzied paparazzi and Spears dressed in cocktail-party attire. The collection of photographers, reporters, sheriff's deputies and prospective jurors who witnessed Spears' arrival in the front of a white Land Rover didn't compare to the circus at a January hearing, when she showed up in a black minidress and gold platform shoes, then bolted before entering the courtroom.
On Tuesday, a somber Spears entered court wearing a brown polka-dot dress and white sweater. Federline arrived about 15 minutes later in a beige pinstriped suit. Moments after Superior Court Commissioner Scott Gordon swore them in, Spears attorney Stacy Phillips asked that the hearing be closed, and Gordon ordered reporters out.
It's been three months since Spears left a psychiatric ward a week ahead of schedule and stirred up a paparazzi car chase, a scene that looked like the beginning of even more erratic behavior. But in the weeks that followed, she lay low and largely avoided the cameras, spent time with family members and even found success in a cameo appearance on CBS' "How I Met Your Mother."
During that time, the 26-year-old pop star has been under the conservatorship of her father. The court-ordered arrangement put James Spears in control of his daughter's personal and financial affairs.
Federline has had full custody of his two sons by Spears since January, when police were called to Spears' home and taken by ambulance to UCLA Medical Center after she refused to relinquish one of the boys to a Federline bodyguard. Her visitation rights were suspended at the time, but have been gradually restored in recent months.
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 James Spears 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 bump in which no one was injured, and for which no one was cited.
Spears' public face has been limited to the "How I Met Your Mother" cameo, which was received well enough that she reprised it during a taping last week. 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.
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