Many Americans are baffled by Britney Spears' seemingly endless stream of court hearings to determine whether she should regain custody of her children.
Spears showed up Monday for the continuation of her deposition in her custody battle with ex-husband Kevin Federline, which was scheduled after she appeared hours late for her initial deposition earlier this month.
But legal experts say despite appearances that Spears, 26, is being given second and third chances, she's not receiving any special treatment.
They say the reason why the legal process is dragging out before the public's eyes is because it is very difficult to prove that Britney's relationship with her children is doing more damage than good.
“What you are seeing in California is, in part, the failure of a forensic expert — like a psychologist or psychiatrist — to come forward with substantial evidence that proves it’s best to disrupt the lives of these children,” said Mario Joseph, partner at Joseph and Smargiassi, a New York law firm specializing in matrimonial and family law.
Joseph also told FOXNews.com that mothers — non-celebrities included — generally receive the benefit of the doubt.
“The reality is that there’s a far higher standard for a father, because there is an age-old presumption that the mother is the more fit parent for an infant or toddler.”
Yet Spears has challenged that presumption every step of the way, by driving with her infant son on her lap, parading around town without panties, spending time in rehab and reportedly running around a Betsey Johnson store completely naked. Joseph said her behavior is “bizarre at worst, and strange at best.”
Just last week alone, she showed up hours late for a court hearing in her custody case, then turned around and went home. The following day, she cavorted around town with paparazzo boyfriend Adnan Ghalib, reportedly staging photos of the two of them shopping for pregnancy tests.
This weekend, she reportedly invited photographers to her house for late-night champagne, and a new video shows her telling paparazzi in a British accent, "you're better off being homeless than being me, sir" and saying she doesn't know Ghalib. She also reportedly filed a restraining order against Ghalib, which he denied knowing anything about.
“The one thing that is clear is that her judgment is very impaired,” Dr. Sharad Wagle, chief of Psychiatry at Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck, N.J, told FOXNews.com. “If you have proper judgment — and want to get your children back — you get to court on time and dress appropriately when you go."
Until now, Spears has shown no interest in psychiatric or psychological care. So much so that she checked herself out of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center the morning of Jan. 5, less than 24 hours after reportedly being placed on a 72-hour hospital lockdown.
Nevertheless, Federline hopes the pop star will eventually be able to co-parent Sean Preston, 2, and Jayden James, 1.
“[My client’s] hope for the future is at some point he will be able to parent the children with the participation of their mother,” K-Fed's lawyer Mark Vincent Kaplan said last Monday after the judge curbed Spears’ visitation pending another hearing scheduled for Feb. 19.
So what would it take for Spears to regain custody, or at the very least, visitation rights?
Regular, ongoing sessions with an approved therapist and possible participation in a substance-abuse program would be highly beneficial, Joseph said. (Reports that Spears abuses substances have been dismissed by insiders, who believe she suffers from mental illness.)
Vincent Vaccaro, a therapist who practices in New York and New Jersey, agreed.
“When someone is out of control, she needs to be in a controlled environment," he said. "That means going to an in-patient facility and being thoroughly evaluated so she can be tested on various medications.”
Visiting the studio to record another album during the day would push the pop tart toward a productive use of time and energy, attorneys believe. (She did, in fact, rehearse at Millennium Dance Complex on Sunday night, the owner of the studio told People magazine.)
Spending nights at home in her Beverly Hills house — and avoiding clubs and bars — would start to sway public perception. And dressing more modestly would go a long way, psychologists added.
“If it means spending more time with play dates and less time with the likes of Paris Hilton, that’s what she should be doing,” Joseph said. “She needs to appear as if she’s putting the interest of her children before her own.”
The problem is that it’s been difficult for the courts to establish a sense of immediate threat or danger. And that’s prevented any long-term measure, Joseph said.
“Dangling a child off a balcony [like Michael Jackson did in November 2002] is clearly an emergent matter,” he explained. “And any reasonably competent parent would understand that driving with a child in the front seat [like Britney did] is not in the best interest of that child. But absent of additional evidence, courts don’t want to change the status quo.”
But if she doesn't clean up her act, she could wind up providing the evidence the court needs to permanently award custody to Federline.
Right now “the judge is saying: 'this is your last opportunity,’” Joseph explained. “And without any remarkably reckless behavior by Kevin Federline, Britney is in real danger of losing her children.”
She’s also in danger of losing much more than that, a New York attorney who represents a number of celebrities told FOXNews.com.
“If she doesn’t get help soon,” he cautioned, “she may end up like Anna Nicole Smith.”