Commissioner Christine Donovan — Department 52

Biographical Information

  • Education: University of Santa Clara School of Law, JD; UC Davis, Sociology.
  • Pre-bench Legal Experience: Solo Practice; Associate, Bartholomew & Wasznicky; Judicial Research Attorney, Solano County Superior Court (Family Law; Probate)


Judicial Experience

  • Appointed as Commissioner in Dept. 52 in April, 2019
  • Served as a Pro-Tem in Solano County while employed as a Research Attorney there, covering family law, civil harassment, probate, and mental health hearings


Pre-bench Civic & Professional Activities

Served on the Board of Directors for a community musical organization


Current Civic & Professional Activities

Girl Scout volunteer.


Continuing Legal Education Faculty

  • Wills & Trusts at JFK University School of Law
  • Taught CJE through the Judicial Council
  • California Court Association


Recent Publications

2003 Harvard Women’s Law Journal, Christine Carlson, Invisible Victims: Holding the Educational System Liable for Teen Dating Violence at School.

CEB Practice Guides:

  • Child and Spousal Support: Establishing, Modifying, and Enforcing – Author of Chapter 12, update author of Chapter 6
  • Child Custody Litigation and Practice – Co-author of Chapter 2, update author of Chapter 6


Typical weekly schedule

  • *M-W DCSS Law & Motion, 8:00 am. Takes the Bench approx. 9:30-9:45 to allow time for DCSS to triage; 1:30 – Longer matters (not evidentiary hearings);
  • Third Tuesday of every month – DCSS contempt matters Thursday – DCSS Trials, Settlement Conferences, & Other Special-Set Hearings
  • Friday – Family law fee waiver hearings (8:30 a.m.), settlement conferences (9:00 a.m.), contempt arraignments (1:30 p.m.), and contempt trials (2:00 p.m.). Except for contempt trials, all Friday hearings are set in Department 52 by other family law departments. Contempt trials are set by Department 52 following arraignment.


Courtroom Policies

Generally, rules from the bench. Matters are taken under submission as needed.



Prefers advance notice and compliance with Judicial Council Form process (FL-679); will accommodate last min requests for good cause.



Any issue heard must be properly raised in pleadings or by stipulation of the parties – strict enforcement and expects the use of the appropriate mandatory JC forms where required, completeness; prefers use of optional forms.



Because CRC does not require, she will request briefs on topics if needed.



Do not file discovery related documents with the Court unless it is an issue for judicial intervention.


Settlement Conferences

Will set Settlement Conferences by request on relevant child support issues. Will not make rulings that are in the purview of the assigned general family law department.


In Limine Motions

Not often presented. Counsel is expected to comply with CRC and CCP.



Third party witnesses – be sure they are necessary prior to presenting them in court. Any request for a witness to appear by telephone is considered on a case by case basis. If a party, they may appear by phone subject to CRC and CCP.



Will consider FL271. Expects appropriate authority to support any claims for sanctions.



Provide other party/counsel, DCSS and the court with copies. Notice is imperative – Per Family Code, DCSS can seek to void orders where notice is not given.



Respect is expected in all directions whether it is Court or DCSS staff, parties, opposing counsel or the Court – no interrupting, use formal names (“Mr. Smith, Ms. Jones, “your Honor”)

When the Court first comes on the Bench, she gives standard advisements, rules of behavior she expects. Turn off phones, respectful tones. Phones, with permission, may be used for calendars or to retrieve documents/emails. Communicate to the Court that you are looking up an email, court date, etc., on your phone. Do not assume the Court knows why your phone is out. The Deputy is directed to confiscate phones that are not turned off. Persons in the audience area of the courtroom are expected to be quiet; conversations should be taken out into the hallway.


Court Reporters & Translators

Court reporters are provided at no charge. Transcripts are not paid for by the Court, and must be ordered through the Court Reporter.


Computers in the Courtroom




Defer to CCP and CRC.


Cameras in the Courtroom

Only with prior permission.


Does this Court prefer courtesy copies delivered to the department prior to hearing?

Not necessary.


Does this Court use the Contra Costa Standard Family Law Pre-Trial order or have its own Pre-Trial order?

There is a specific PreTrial Order provided at the time trial or long cause is set.


Does this Court expect parties/attorneys to meet and confer prior to hearing? Will the Court order parties to do so before calling the matter?

Yes, the Court expects meaningful attempts to resolve and/or narrow the issues for hearing. There is time before the morning calendar to review the case with other parties and DCSS.



  • If Counsel is not handling the child support component of a case, they are expected to file the appropriate Notice of Limited Scope outlining all issues for which they will represent client. If none is filed, Counsel is expected to appear for all hearings. Hearings will not go forward when there is an Attorney of Record and they are not present for or with the litigant.
  • If an issue that is outside the scope of a noticed hearing is requested, there must be a written agreement filed with the court prior to any discussion of same with the Court.
  • The Court has an extensive calendar. It is helpful to be reminded, politely, about pertinent facts or appropriate authority for any argument.
  • The Court wants evidence for requests to impute income under Regnery, Bardzik et al.
  • At your hearing, it is extremely helpful to begin by letting the Court know where you have reached agreement, and where there are issues for a decision. A “Roadmap” is helpful.
  • The court strives to provide clear, defined, understandable orders.. The Court invites requests for clarification of any Order made on the record so that the parties feel heard and understand their respective obligations.
  • If necessary, the Court will make temporary orders when matters are continued.