When parents split up, the children caught in the middle often wind up suffering the most. Parents can make the transitions caused as a result of a breakup easier for their children by placing their children’s needs above any personal feelings they might have for their former partners. By working together in their children’s best interests, it is possible for both parents to have a happy and healthy relationship with the children.

One way unwed and divorced parents can accomplish this goal after the breakup is by setting up a written, preliminary parenting agreement before consulting an attorney. This agreement can cover a wide range of matters, including such important issues as child custody, visitation, child support, education, travel, communication and emergency plans.

Anything the parents agree upon can be included in the parenting agreement. Decisions should be made based upon what is in the best interest in the child. Couples can seek the help of a professional — such as a mediator, custody evaluator or therapist — if they have run into problems while creating a parenting agreement.

Unmarried parents’ rights can be at risk during a breakup, especially if the split is contentious. If parents make a concerted effort to reach an agreement on at least the basic issues, such as child custody and visitation, these rights can be protected.

If legal proceedings are eventually filed, the parenting agreement should be submitted to the court for the judge to sign so that it becomes an enforceable court order.

When clear expectations are set out beforehand, conflict and drama are reduced. If parents can work together to create a cooperative parenting agreement, putting their children first in the decision-making process, the children will ultimately suffer less stress and worry, which should be every parent’s ultimate goal.