Britney Spears

Britney One Step Forward

UPDATED 05/19/2008 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 05/19/2008 at 01:00 AM EDT

The scene outside L.A.'s Stanley Mosk courthouse on May 6 was all too familiar as a mob of photographers and reporters clamored to catch Britney Spears arriving for her latest custody hearing. And yet, there were telling differences this time around. Unlike her last courthouse appearance on Jan. 23—when she drove up to the front only to depart minutes later—the pop star made a discreet entrance underground, escorted by her parents, Jamie and Lynne. And this time, she stayed till the end. "She's in a totally different frame of mind," says a pal who spoke to Spears recently. "She sounded like she's doing really well."

The court apparently agrees. While Spears' ex Kevin Federline, 30, retained full custody of their sons Preston, 2 1/2, and Jayden, 1 1/2, the judge extended her visitation rights to three times a week. (A source says there are still no overnight visits, but Spears, 26, will spend Mother's Day with the boys.) "We are so pleased with Britney's progress, and we are appreciative of the court's recognition of this progress," Jamie, 55, and Lynne, 53, said in a statement.

"[Kevin] is relieved his children are going to be able to continue to have two parents in their lives," says Federline's lawyer Mark Vincent Kaplan, who calls the decision "a cautious step, but a step forward nonetheless."

Credit the new operating system for Britney 2.0: With her father, Jamie, in legal control of her well-being and finances, the singer has remained relatively under the radar as she slowly rebuilds her life after being hospitalized twice earlier this year. Spears has developed a routine that includes frequent trips to the gym and the recording studio and just taped her second episode of How I Met Your Mother (airing May 12). She's also reconnecting with family, flying home to Kentwood, La., for her sister Jamie Lynn's May 3 baby shower. "Britney and Jamie Lynn picked up where they left off," says a source. "Britney's not 100 percent, but she's definitely on her way back to being who she is."

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