For families beginning their adoption journey, there are many questions. Is foster care, domestic, or international adoption the right fit? How long will the process take? How long before a match is received? And how much does it cost to adopt? This last question is one of the biggest for most families, and the truth is it can vary from $0-$50,000 depending on the type of adoption a family chooses and how they choose to pursue that adoption.
The addition of a new child to your family will be priceless but adoption costs can be daunting. There are many factors that can influence the cost of adoption, and there are many ways to finance an adoption. Adoption costs are not due all at once but rather spread out over time throughout the process. Here is what you can expect to pay at every step.
The Home Study
Every type of adoption begins with a home study. A home study is essentially a compilation of documents, background checks, and reference letters designed to assess a family’s willingness to adopt. A home study provides a snapshot of what life with your family would look like for an adopted child.
Home studies also ensure that the family is willing and able to provide a nurturing, safe environment for a child. Each home study must be completed by a state-licensed social worker, and the composition of each home study takes time. Typically, agencies will charge between $2,000-$3,000 for the home study. These fees are typically due before a family begins their home study process.
As timelines vary it is possible a family will need an annual home study update if their adoption process takes longer than a year. Home study updates cost between $300-$500. Because home studies include physicals and background checks families can expect to pay their co-pay and a fee of $60-$75 for background checks for everyone in the family over the age of 18. Some documents will need to be notarized, which can incur additional fees.
In addition to the costs associated with the home study, families will need to complete pre-adoption parent education courses. Every state has a minimum number of hours of pre-adoption training, and, typically, families can expect to need a total of 20 hours. If adopting internationally, the number of hours needed may be doubled. Pre-adoption education runs between $500-$800. At this time, families will be expected to pay their post-placement adoption fee as well. This fee runs an average of $1,500.
The overall cost of the home study and post-placement reporting fee is between $4,000 – $6,000. For families pursuing adoption from foster care, these fees are typically reimbursed through the Title IV-E adoption assistance program.
On average, home studies take around three to four months to complete. Upon completion of a home study, a family is eligible to be matched with a child. Families adopting from foster care will work with their state photolistings or identify a child through another photolisting site.
Families pursuing domestic adoption or international adoption have a different path. With domestic adoption, a family can choose to either work with an agency or do an independent adoption. Most states allow independent adoption, but it is important to double-check your state adoption laws. Independent adoption can be less expensive than agency-facilitated adoption as families can avoid agency fees. That said, in independent adoption advertising, legal fees and negotiations with the birth mother are handled independently so costs may vary considerably.
Domestic Fees – Independent Adoption
Some families pursuing independent adoption will choose to work with an adoption consultant to guide them through the process. An adoption consultant can help a family market themselves to potential birth parents, but they are not licensed social workers or attorneys. The cost of an adoption consultant is around $2,000.
Families adopting independently can expect to pay marketing fees between $1,000-$5,000, depending on their level of advertising. These fees will be due prior to matching. Upon identifying a birth mother, families will navigate prenatal and postnatal expenses. State laws vary in terms of what is and is not permissible so be sure to have a state-licensed attorney review your prospective budget.
Expenses typically include prenatal counseling, legal bills associated with the adoption, medical bills, and reasonable living expenses. Birth mother expenses range from $6,000-$8,000, and families can expect to pay these fees from matching through the birth of the child. Because adoption is a legal transaction, a state-licensed attorney will be necessary to complete the adoption. Families can expect to pay between $7,000-$15,000 for all legal fees, including the termination of parental rights and readoption. Legal fees typically include a retainer so families can expect to pay the firm incrementally until the adoption is finalized. How much does it cost to adopt independently domestically? Including the home study and post-placement fees, between $19,000- $36,000.
Domestic Fees – Agency Adoption
Unlike independent adoption, domestic agency adoption is more inclusive. A good agency will walk you through every step of the process and provide support to both the prospective adoptive parents and the potential birth mother throughout their journey. On average, agencies will charge an application fee of around $500, due immediately, and then a program fee upon home study completion. Infant adoption programs range from $10,000-$30,000, with the average program cost around $18,000. Each agency varies in the level of service it provides to waiting families and costs vary accordingly. When selecting an agency, be sure to ask the right questions to ensure the agency is a good match for your family.
Included in agency fees are the costs associated with advertising to potential birth parents, matching services, counseling services, and navigating the terms of the adoption. Families may still choose to work with an adoption consultant, though with some agencies it is not necessary. Additional advertising costs may be incurred depending on how the family wants to present themselves. Prospective adoptive parents can expect to pay birth mother related expenses, including her legal, medical, and living costs. These costs range from $6,000-$8,000.
Families working with an adoption agency will still need to hire an adoption attorney to finalize their adoption. Unlike in independent adoption, where an adoption attorney will do more work, in an agency-based adoption the adopting attorney will be responsible only for filing an adoption petition in the state where the adoption is taking place. If you are adopting across state lines, additional fees may be incurred through the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children, or ICPC. The average cost of attorney fees with domestic agency adoption is $4,500. How much does it cost to adopt with an agency domestically? Including the home study and post-placement fees, between $25,000-$48,000.
Domestic Fees – Adoption from Foster Care
To adopt from foster care, families will first complete a home study. Then, they will work either with a private agency or directly with a public agency (typically run through the state) to identify a child. Public agencies charge little to no money, whereas a private agency may run between $1,000-$2,000. With foster care adoption, the largest expense is typically the home study and the finalization of the adoption in court. Most states offer subsidies for families adopting from foster care, so typically most costs are covered. Additionally, families adopting from foster care can expect to receive monthly stipends along with a Medicaid card to assist with medical expenses until the child is 18. How much does it cost to adopt from foster care? Including the home study and post-placement fees, between $0-$4,000.
Unlike domestic adoption, most international adoptions will be facilitated and completed by a Hague accredited adoption agency. It is possible to adopt independently internationally but the process is not without complications and can be extremely unpredictable. Upon completion of a home study, a family will select which country program they would like to pursue and then be accepted into their agency’s country program. At this time the agency fee, typically around $500, and the program coordinator fee will be due. Program coordinator fees range from $5,000-$7,000 and include personnel needed to translate and submit a family’s dossier to the country’s central adoption authority. Those fees also include the team responsible for facilitating a match. Families can expect to pay an additional $2,500 to authenticate their dossier documents and to apply for an I-800 or I-600 visa application from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS.
Once a match is made and a referral is accepted, families will pay the country program fee. Country program fees vary widely between $10,000-$27,000. For example, China and India program fees average around $12,000, whereas South Korea averages between $22,000-$27,000. Included in the program fees are costs associated with obtaining updates about the child, costs of personnel, both in the U.S. and in the child’s country of birth, visa fees, and in-country legal fees. Often a separate line item included in the country fees is the care of the children in the prospective adoptive child’s country. Thanks to the Hague Convention, all fees most be disclosed in advance so families adopting from Hague Convention countries will not face any unforeseen adoption-related expenses while in-country.
Other potential fees related to international adoption include the pre-adoption medical review of the referral, which can average between $800-$2,000 and, upon returning home, the readoption of your new child. Though not necessary if the adoption is completed in-country, readoption may still be a good idea. Readoption costs average between $1,000-$2,000. How much does it cost to adopt internationally? Including the home study and post-placement reporting fees, between $23,800-$47,000.
The other fees involved in most adoptions center around travel. For domestic adoptions, a lot will depend on where you live versus where the child currently resides. Families adopting domestically should plan to stay in the state until written consent is given. If families are adopting across state lines, they must also wait until ICPC clearance is obtained, typically around seven to 10 business days. The average cost of travel for domestic adoption, including flights and hotels, is between $2,000-$3,000.
Families adopting internationally will face higher travel fees because, oftentimes, they are booking a trip halfway around the world at the last minute. While in-country, families can expect to pay for hotels, drivers, and, potentially, translators. Some countries, such as South Korea and certain states in India, require two international trips. When the time comes to finalize the adoption, families can expect to spend between 10 to 14 days in-country. It should be noted, too, that oftentimes the children’s orphanage is in a different part of the country than the U.S. Embassy (where all families must go to process their new child’s visa). As such, domestic travel within the country is quite common. The average cost of travel for international adoption, including flights and hotels, is between $10,000-$15,000.
Though sticker shock with adoption is real, it is important to remember that the above fees are typically paid gradually over time. Not all money is due at once so financing different parts of your adoption is always an option. Many families choose to hold fundraisers, apply for grants, or take out loans. In fact, there are a number of adoption loans available for little to no interest. And there is the Adoption Tax Credit, or ATC. The ATC allows families to claim tax credit on adoption-related expenses–from agency fees, to legal fees, to travel. Families adopting domestically can essentially “claim as they go” and if an adoption falls through they can still receive credit. Families adopting internationally will have to wait until their adoption is finalized to apply the ATC. Both domestic and international adoptive families can claim the ATC for up to five years following their adoption, so if you are unable to take the full credit of $13,810, any unused credit will roll over into the following year.
Building your family through adoption can be a difficult financial journey, but the joy of bringing a child into your life will be priceless.