I am the mother of a wonderful one-year-old boy. His father and I split up recently (we weren't married). He'd been arrested for assaulting me. I have no idea where to start with custody, support, etc. I'm scared to let the father spend unsupervised time with our son. Can you help?
You certainly couldn't have guessed at the first step -- it's to open what's called a "paternity file" with the court, since you weren't married. This file serves as a sort of umbrella for handling decisions on custody, visitation, child support, and restraining orders for unmarried parents.
More and more courts have a person on their staff who will help you wade through the necessary forms and get a court date set so that you can get a custody order. Call the court's clerk to see if they have such a person. Even better, see if you can get legal help and other support through your local battered women's shelter.
Once you have a custody order, it will become an important piece of paper. Mention it to a police officer, and he or she will become infinitely more willing to offer protection if your ex tries to see the baby when he shouldn't.