When you ask, “How much does adoption cost?” expecting to hear something reasonable, hearing that adoptions can cost up to $50,000 or more, is enough to...

How Much Does Adoption Cost?

Comprehending the cost of adoption can be an intimidating and confusing first step in the adoption journey for some. For others, it can be a deterrent altogether. When you ask, “How much does adoption cost?” expecting to hear something reasonable, hearing that adoptions can cost up to $50,000 or more, is enough to take your breath away and make you wonder how anyone anywhere is able to afford it. 

Other prospective parents may feel angry. They want to adopt and are wondering why it is so expensive to become the family for a child who may otherwise wind up in the system for days, weeks, or even years. On top of the financial costs of adoption, there are other costs to consider, including but not limited to emotional and psychological issues. These issues impact everyone from the birth family to the adoptee to the adoptive family; it is something that adoptive parents should be aware of before beginning the process.

The good news is that adoption can be affordable. There are many types of adoption and paths to get there. While some are expensive, others come with little to no financial cost

Monetarily, How Much Does Adoption Cost?

It should also be understood that there are reasons why adoption is so expensive in some cases and that these reasons are in place for the welfare of the children. Adoption research has come a long way in considering all parties involved, from birth family to child to adoptive family. This supports greater understanding, healthier situations, and more positive outcomes.

Adoption Cost Breakdown

Lita Jordan explains in her article, “Why Is Adoption So Expensive?”, that “Adoption costs should not be viewed as a whole. They are a lot of separate fees instead.” Jordan goes on to talk about expenses associated with adoption agency and lawyer fees, home study items, birth mother expenses, travel expenses, and post-placement needs. She continues, “The question of ‘Why is adoption so expensive?’ is simply answered with the knowledge that it takes many people and many processes to complete an adoption journey. The use of adoption professionals is crucial to ensure that an adoption is both legal and ethical.”

The type of adoption you pursue will impact the associated costs. For instance, private domestic adoption is the most common type of adoption and can be very expensive, running upwards of $40,000. Whereas adoption from foster care, also known as public adoption, may only cost $1,000 to $5,000. Years ago, it was believed that international adoption was an affordable alternative, but in truth, due to additional paperwork, government fees (from both countries), and travel costs, total expenses often range from $40,000 and $50,000. Of course, all of these numbers are subject to change since there are factors that may increase or decrease fees.

Let’s take a deeper dive into some of the reasons behind the numbers.

Agencies and Lawyers. Agency fees and legal fees vary for different types of adoption. Adoptions through an agency cost approximately $18,000, with attorney fees averaging around $4,500. Independent adoptions average between $1,000-$5,000, and those legal fees usually range from $7,000-$15,000. Adopting.org notes that agency fees depend on the services waiting families receive from them. 

International adoption also involves agency fees and lawyers fees (sometimes in-country). Adoptive families can expect to pay agency fees and program applications ranging from $10,000-$27,000 with dossier authentication and visa/passport applications coming in at approximately $2,500. 

In the case of foster-to-adopt, agency and lawyer fees are typically lower and will sometimes be reimbursed.

Home Studies. According to Child Welfare, a home study is meant to:

  • Educate and prepare the prospective family for adoption
  • Evaluate the capability and suitability of the prospective family to adopt
  • Gather information about the prospective adoptive family that will help a social worker match the family with a child or youth whose needs they can best meet (applicable to adoptions in which public child welfare agencies are involved).

Home studies can range between $2,000 to $6,000 and are typically charged on a sliding scale based on family income. This ballpark range does not include extra fees such as out-of-pocket copays to physicians and fees required to have certain documents certified, notarized, and (in the case of international adoption) apostilled. Background checks, child abuse checks, fingerprinting (possibly at the local, state, and international level) are also required. 

As part of your home study, prospective parents are required to take specific, educational training courses that can usually be done online. These courses are critical and helpful for anyone considering adoption. 

And finally, you will be required to complete post-placement reporting in order to finalize a domestic adoption within six months. International adoptions require post-placement visits too, though the length of time differs with the country.

Birth Mother Expenses or Living Expenses. These court-approved funds are provided by the prospective adoptive family to meet certain financial needs of the birth mother both during and shortly after pregnancy. Because each state has different adoption laws, and expenses are considered on a case-by-case basis, it’s important for families to discuss these expenses with their adoption facilitator early on. Expenses will likely supplement housing, utilities, transportation, nutrition, and clothing costs. For more information, check out the article “What Is Included in Birth Parent Expenses?

Travel. Whether you choose to adopt domestically (across state lines) or internationally (across the globe), you may be required to travel. You will need to budget for plane tickets, hotel rooms, transportation needs, and food. 

For international adoption, you may also need to invest in a translator and guide, unforeseen medical/clinic visits, airfare, lodging, transportation, food, and loss of income if you will need to take time off work. Other costs may include an escort fee (when parents cannot travel to accompany the child to the United States) and passport/visa processing fees. Travel.State.gov provides Country Information sheets on the adoption processes in more than 175 countries.

Just traveling can be a nerve-racking part of the adoption process since the time when placement is finally approved often comes as a last-minute surprise. This means you may still wind up finding different plane tickets and accommodations on the fly, despite your best planning efforts, thereby raising costs. 

In the case of international adoption, oftentimes, the process of finalization in your child’s birth country can be uncertain, and you may find yourself having to rebook flights to get home. In the case of domestic adoption, families are required to be present until the birth mother has provided written consent. Consent laws vary by state and range from a few hours to up to a week. Additionally, families adopting from another state must wait to go home until their Interstate Compact on Placement of Children clearance has been processed; this can take up to 10 business days.

Regardless of whether it’s domestic or international, families can cut travel costs by building up hotel or airline points. Some airlines will also accept donated miles, which can result in significant savings to you.

Emotionally and Psychologically, How Much Does Adoption Cost?

Aside from the monetary expense, adoption comes with emotional and psychological costs that impact birth families, adoptees, and adoptive families. These emotional and psychological costs are best alleviated by meekly combating ignorance. 

Adoption should not be viewed in a negative light. When handled correctly and professionally, adoption truly is a loving act on the part of a biological mother who, for whatever reason, is unable to parent her child or decides it’s not in the child’s best interest. The adoptive parent(s) who chooses to open his or her heart and home to a child is certainly performing a loving act also.  

Combat the Unfair Portrait of Birth Families. Unfortunately, there was a time when birth parents were made to feel subpar for their decision to place a child for adoption. An unfair and cruel misconception of what and who a birth mother or father is impacts not only the birth family but also the entire adoption process, putting a stigma on adoptees as if they were unwanted and unloved. In her article “5 Stereotypes About Birth Parents That Need To Die Now,” author Jeanette Green breaks down some stereotypes that cast birth parents in a bad light. Only by learning and understanding why adoption becomes a choice can society truly make decisions in the best interest of children. 

Combat the Unfair Portrait of Adoptees. It’s unfair for foster children and/or adoptees to grow up believing these untruths. So why do they exist? Perhaps these untruths make it easier for those to create narratives that make it easier for them to make their own sense of the breakup of families. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have the love, resources, or financial support to make things work. Furthermore, not every family’s story is the same, and there are countless reasons a birth mother may choose to place a child for adoption. Some may sound selfish on the surface, but when you dig deep, there is no greater sacrifice. And at the end of the day, it’s nobody’s business to judge why someone has chosen an adoption plan.

Instead, let us appreciate and support the loss felt by the birth family—no matter how it comes to be. We as a society can better support everyone involved in the adoption community with less judgment and more productive solutions, especially, the adoptee.

Combat the Unfair Portrait of Adoptive Parents. Aren’t Saviors or Selfish. On the part of adoptive parents, in her blog Battle Adoptive Family Distress From Day One, author Patricia Jones advises adoptive parents to “minimize distress and anxiety with an open communication journey—immediately.” She goes on to say that “talking to your adopted child when they are very young and unable to fully grasp the significance of the losses involved gives you time to practice how and ways in which to explain their story. You will set the important stage of your child being able to trust and communicate with you—not only about their adoption, but likely about other significant issues as well.”

One of the most important jobs of an adoptive parent is getting past all of the adoption myths and misconceptions. Beyond the worries and strain of the adoption process is the importance of focusing on how we, as parents, can and will best help our adopted children be at peace with the decisions that have been made for them. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that adoptive parents go into adoption with the very best of intentions, and—like birth families—sometimes get the unwarranted label of being selfish when it comes to the child(ren) involved; however, again research and education go a long way. The best investment adoptive parents can make for themselves on and behalf of their child is to research and find the support they need in order to better appreciate that the adoption journey does not end on day one, but just begins. 

Are the Costs Worth It?

Although adoption can be expensive, depending on the path you choose and a host of factors that may or may not impact your unique experience, I have yet to meet adoptive parents who regret their decision to invest their time, money, and love into the child(ren) they adopted. I’ve honestly never once sat around with other adoptive parents and complained about the cost of adoption (other than wishing it was a bit more affordable so more hopeful parents could choose adoption). Yes, there are some definite outdated practices that I feel weigh in on some of the expenses (overlap in certain documentation and sharing of documentation between agencies, especially in the case of multiple adoptions) considering we’ve been in the technological age now for decades. But, when you truly break down the fees associated with adoption and the people involved—many of whom will prove to be life-changers for you and your adopted child—the picture becomes more clear and the costs more understandable.

14 Things To Know About Affording Adoption” offers additional tips, advice, and links to videos and blogs that can help adoptive families understand the monetary, emotional, and mental costs associated with adoption, as well as ways to manage the associated fees.

Are you ready to pursue adoption? Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to connect with compassionate, nonjudgmental adoption specialists who can help you get started on the journey of a lifetime.

Susan Kuligowski

Sue Kuligowski is a staff storyteller at Adoption.com. The mother of two girls through adoption, she is a proposal coordinator, freelance writer/editor, and an adoption advocate. When she's not writing or editing, she can be found supervising sometimes successful glow-in-the-dark experiments, chasing down snails in the backyard, and attempting to make sure her girls are eating more vegetables than candy.