From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
After a week during which Britney Spears seemed to publicly break down—culminating in her shaving her head—her friends and family were relieved when she checked into Promises rehab clinic in Malibu on Feb. 20. But less than 24 hours later, she walked out. Upset by the news, Spears's estranged husband, Kevin Federline, decided to take action. After Spears filed for divorce in November, a temporary court order issued in January gave her custody of their sons Sean Preston, 18 months, and Jayden James, 6 months, and allowed Federline visitation three days a week. The day she exited Promises, Federline and his lawyer Mark Vincent Kaplan scheduled an emergency hearing to seek physical and legal custody, says a source. Ultimately, Federline gave Spears, 25, a choice: Either she got back into Promises that night or Federline would go to court in the morning, says the source.

At about 7 p.m. that night, Spears, driven by a friend, showed up outside Federline's home in Tarzana, Calif.—followed by some 20 paparazzi. Federline failed to appear, so she left. When a photographer followed her to a gas station, she became enraged and began whacking his SUV with an umbrella. Later that night Spears's mother, Lynne, 51, who had flown in from her home in Kentwood, La., to be near her daughter and grandsons, took Spears back to Promises. Says a friend of Federline's: "Britney scared everyone real bad."

On Feb. 23 Federline—who, sources say, also played a role in persuading Spears to enter rehab in the first place—spent an hour visiting his ex at Promises; the next evening he also brought the boys, and they were joined by Lynne. "Kevin is working closely with Lynne to let Britney know how serious it is that she gets help," says one family friend. A source close to Federline notes that "Kevin loves Britney ... nothing has changed about that." Adds Spears's friend, stylist Corrine Asch: "You know what, when they broke up, I said they still loved each other. I hope they do get back together. He's a good guy."

Right now the boys are "being taken care of by Kevin," says a source. "Lynne is helping." Eventually, says a Spears family friend, Federline, who will turn 29 this month, "would like [Britney] to have the kids because he thinks she is a good mother." But to make that happen will require hard work. A typical stay at Promises lasts 45 days—and Spears "is getting no special treatment," says her manager Larry Rudolph. After she gets out, she'll face other problems, including the fallout from a Feb. 25 British tabloid story in which her first husband, Jason Alexander, 25, described their 55-hour marriage as a drug-filled romp. For the moment, friends say, life goes on. Federline is scheduled to host a party at the Revolution lounge in the Mirage in Las Vegas on March 3. Meanwhile, Spears is "doing what everybody else is doing" at Promises, Rudolph says. "She has a regular room, a regular routine. She is doing exceptionally well."

  • Contributors:
  • Bryan Alexander/Los Angeles,
  • Jennifer Garcia/Los Angeles,
  • Marisa Laudadio/Los Angeles,
  • Lycia Naff/Los Angeles,
  • Mary Margaret/Los Angeles,
  • Frank Swertlow/Los Angeles,
  • Alicia Dennis/Austin.