It Took Me 12 Years to Get Out of My Conservatorship. Now I’m Finally Free.

My parents didn’t trust me to make my own choices, but with supported decision-making, I’m finally able to live life on my terms.

Marie Bergum, ACLU Client

My name is Marie Bergum. When I turned 18, my dad and stepmom got a guardianship over me. I didn’t want to have a guardianship, I wanted to keep learning and making my own choices. But my parents said that because I have an intellectual disability, I had to be in a guardianship, or a conservatorship as it’s called in California. The court agreed, and took away my rights.

In the guardianship, I couldn’t make my own choices. My guardians stopped me from doing a lot of things I wanted. It was like being behind bars. I felt trapped.

I wanted to take reading classes, but I wasn’t allowed to. I wanted to learn how to take the bus, but I wasn’t allowed to. I wanted to talk to people I trust, like my aunt and my friends, but I wasn’t allowed to. For a while I wasn’t even allowed to have a phone. I didn’t have any privacy. I didn’t get any trust. I wanted to learn about money and budgeting, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t do these things because of my guardianship.

A photo of ACLU client Marie Bergum.

Marie Bergum.

Credit: Tara Pixley

In the guardianship, my parents forced me to move away from the people I trust, all the way from Michigan to California. After a while, I made friends in California. I learned about supported decision-making, and I found supporters who I trust. But then, my dad tried to force me to move back to Michigan! That made me so mad. I have the right to live where I want to live.

I wanted to get out of the guardianship. My dad kept saying no. He told me I would never learn anything because of my disability and because I can’t do everything right. It felt really bad when he said that. He put me down. He wouldn’t let me learn and be independent. Then he blamed me for not being independent. But I can learn a lot! He just didn’t believe in me.

In 2011, I wrote a letter to ask the court to end the guardianship. I wrote the letter myself. There wasn’t anyone who could help me. But the court didn’t end it. In 2019, I tried to end the guardianship again. But the court didn’t end it then. My dad kept saying that he was protecting me, but I felt trapped, and not trusted.

A photo of the letter Marie wrote, asking the court to end her guardianship.

A photo of the letter Marie wrote, asking the court to end her guardianship. Personal information has been redacted.

Finally, earlier this month, the court ended my conservatorship. I have all of my rights back. I found supporters and lawyers who helped me end the conservatorship. They believe in me, and they are helping me learn new skills and be more independent.

I am enrolled in an independent living program now. I’m learning skills to live on my own. With supported decision-making, I get help from people I trust to make my own choices. I have lots of supporters, and I talk to them a lot. They help me. They don’t put me down. I took a CPR class this spring. It was my idea to do the CPR class.

I spend a lot of time advocating for other people with disabilities. I talk to journalists about what happened to me. I helped pass a new law in California that recognizes supported decision-making and makes it easier for people to end conservatorships. I want to tell my story to help people with disabilities and their families understand supported decision-making. I want people to understand that conservatorship is not the only way, and that people with disabilities can make choices and learn and live their own lives. I want people to think really hard before they start conservatorship, because it can be so hard to end.