It takes a lot to be a parent. A lot of energy. A lot of patience. And — let’s be honest — a lot of money. Haven Life wants to lend a hand. No, we’re not available to babysit, but we’ve spoken to some experts (plus a few moms and dads) to get their advice on starting a family, raising a family, and yes, paying for a family. These are their stories, and this is our “Growing Family” series.
If you’re considering adoption, you probably already understand what an amazing gift it is. For a child who needs a loving home, the “forever family” is a dream come true. For parents who aren’t able to bring someone into the world naturally, a child is a gift straight from heaven.
Adoption is a gift. But whether it’s a last resort or something you feel you were born to do, adoption usually doesn’t come gift-wrapped. Most times there are costs involved. Starting and growing any family is expensive for anyone, but even more so for people who need to research options other than old-fashioned conception. Curiosity about those costs is understandably square one for many hopeful parents.
While having kids can complete your family and be emotionally rewarding, you shouldn’t overlook the finances. Here’s an overview of adoption costs that you can start with if you’re a couple or individual who’s planning to adopt.
What adoption fees cover
Before getting into the specifics of what you might pay to adopt a child, it helps to know what kind of expenses come up in the process:
- Adoption program fee – This is a fee you pay to the adoption program or agency you’re working with.
- Home study fee – A home study conducted by a licensed social worker or caseworker is required to adopt in every state and as the adoptive parent, you’re responsible for footing the bill. The purpose of the home study is to make sure you’re a good candidate for adoption.
- Legal and court fees – Court costs to finalize an adoption can range from $500 to $2,000. You could spend another $2,500 to $12,000 if you’re paying an attorney to help with the adoption.
- Birth mother expenses – In private or independent adoptions, adoptive parents may pay certain expenses for the birth mother. Forty-five states have laws spelling out which expenses you can pay as an adoptive parent, and how much you’re allowed to pay.
- Travel expenses – You may have to pay travel expenses if you’re adopting a child from a different city, state or country.
What it really costs to adopt
There’s no fixed dollar amount for what it costs to adopt. You could pay nothing at all or spend $50,000 or more to add a child to your family, according to a 2017 survey from Adoptive Families Magazine.
What you’ll actually pay to adopt depends largely on where you live and where the child you are adopting lives; whether you’re adopting solo or as a couple; and which adoption route you follow.
Here’s how the costs compare for four different adoption options.
1. Foster care adoption ($0 to $3,000)
There are nearly 438,000 children in foster care in the U.S. While many foster kids are returned to their families, that’s not always possible. For those kids, adoption can make a foster home a permanent home.
“Foster adoption is virtually free,” says Nicole Witt, executive director of The Adoption Consultancy. “Depending on the state law, it may include financial benefits, such as free health care or a college education for the child.”
Jill A. Johnson-Young, CEO and clinical director at Central Counseling Services in Riverside, California adopted three children from foster care in California. She says that in her case, there were no large fees of any kind. She also notes that parents who adopt children with special needs may qualify for adoption assistance to help with any costs they do have to pay.
In the Adoptive Families survey, the average cost of foster care adoption was $2,938. Eighty-eight percent of parents who chose to foster and then adopt qualified to receive a monthly subsidy to help with the costs of caring for a foster child. The monthly subsidy totaled $827 on average.
Based on those numbers, foster adoption could be the least expensive. Another upside? There’s a wide range of adoptable children, from infants all the way up to teens. Johnson-Young’s children, for example, were 5, 7 ½ and almost 16 when she adopted them.
2. Private/Independent adoption ($5,000 to $50,000+)
Private or independent adoption involves adopting a child without going through the foster system or a private agency. You work with an attorney to connect with a birth mother if you don’t already have one lined up. Your attorney can also help iron out the legal and financial details of adopting.
Joseph Hoelscher, a child welfare attorney at Hoelscher Gebbia Cepeda PLLC in San Antonio, Texas says a private or independent adoption can be easier than other adoption avenues, and more cost-effective.
“A lawyer is required, but the primary costs will be the legal fees,” Hoelscher says, with the cost potentially as low as $5,000 to $6,000.
The legal fees can be higher if a private adoption takes longer to complete. And, you could also pay more if you’re shouldering responsibility for advertising fees to connect with prospective birth mothers or paying a big chunk of the birth mother’s health care expenses during the pregnancy. If the birth mother is represented by her own attorney, you may be responsible for picking up the tab for those fees as well.
3. Domestic agency adoption ($5,000 to $40,000+)
The cost of adopting through a domestic agency is similar to an independent adoption. The difference is that the agency acts as the go-between for adoptive parents and birth parents, rather than your attorney.
Sarah Deatrela, co-founder of Special Angels Adoption, which focuses on placing children with special needs with adoptive families, says it’s important to weigh cost and convenience when comparing an agency adoption with a private placement.
“Most agencies will provide a detailed list of fees and expenses,” Deatrela says, whereas “attorneys usually charge by the hour,” which could make planning your baby budget more difficult.
Deatrela advises parents who are considering an agency to look for one that doesn’t require them to pay any significant fees until there’s a match or placement. “Working with an agency that doesn’t require huge fees up front will help minimize the loss of funds if the birth family chooses not to move forward with the adoption,” she says.
4. International adoption ($7,000 to $30,000+)
Adopting a child from another country can trigger some additional fees you might not pay with a domestic private or agency adoption.
For example, you might pay immigration processing fees, Visa and passport-processing fees or travel expenses for the child and an adult traveling companion if they’re bringing the child to you, or your own travel expenses if you go there. You may also have to pay a placement fee to the organization that’s handling the adoption, which could be a government or private agency, an orphanage or charity or an adoption facilitator.
Beyond the cost, an international adoption can present other obstacles, especially if you happen to be an LGBTQ solo parent or couple. For example, not every country allows LGBTQ individuals or same-sex couples to adopt. And ones that do may have stiffer requirements for adopting compared to the laws in your home state.
Unique costs for LGBTQ hopeful parents
Second-parent adoptions can bump up the cost. Depending on the laws in your state, only one half of a same-sex couple might be recognized as an adoptive child’s legal parent. If the second parent wants to have the same legal rights as the first, they may be able to get a second parent adoption, which could cost another $2,000 to $3,000.
Second-parent adoption isn’t allowed in every state. And in some states, it’s only an option if you and your partner are legally married, have a legally recognized civil union or claim domestic partnership status.
How to minimize the cost of adoption
Adoption can be expensive but there are some things you can do to bring the cost down.
Witt says adoptive parents should consider whether they’re eligible to claim the adoption tax credit. Tax credits can reduce the amount of tax you owe for the year. For 2018, the credit maxes out at $13,840 for families with a modified adjusted gross income of less than $207,580.
Look into grants that don’t have to be repaid to help offset adoption costs. Organizations that offer adoption grants include:
Getting your company to help out with the cost might be another option, Witt says. While adoption reimbursement is a less common employee perk, some companies do offer financial support to adoptive parents, as well other benefits such as adoption leave.
Look beyond the numbers
Can adoption be expensive? Definitely. And figuring out what you’ll spend to adopt is important. But, it’s not the only thing you need to think about.
“Choosing the right route to adoption requires a balance of finances and emotional resilience,” Hoelscher says, relating that it can take months or even years to complete the journey.
He recommends that if you’re planning to adopt, get your support system in place early on. That may include joining a group for foster parents if you’re adopting through a public agency or connecting with an attorney who’s experienced in guiding gay couples through adoption.
“Education, planning and commitment are required to adequately prepare,” Hoelscher says.
Rebecca Lake is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance and small business. She lives on the North Carolina coast with her two children.