When we first adopted, some of my friends I talked to about it didn’t even know that it cost anything to adopt. This is not the reality. It’s important for everyone to remember we are not “buying a baby,” but rather, paying an agency for their services in order to bring a baby home to our families. Think of how it’s much the same when a couple pays an in vitro fertilization doctor for services in order to bring home a baby. Depending on what type of adoption you’re pursuing, you will be looking at anywhere from $2,000-$50,000 in cost. With that variance, it’s easy to see why different families choose different types of adoption. Unfortunately, even in the most common type of adoption (newborn infant domestic adoption), there is still a huge variance, usually around $25,000-$50,000. Let’s dive into a breakdown of the many fees associated with each type.

Domestic infant adoption is the most common type of adoption in the U.S. The cost will vary greatly, depending on which adoption agency you choose. If there were an average, I’d say it’s around $35,000. You can choose agencies who offer a lower price, like Catholic Charities, which was $24,000 for our first adoption. There are other agencies though where the price goes toward $50,000. As long as people keep using more expensive agencies, they will keep charging that amount. If you want to see adoption become more affordable for everyone, people will have to refuse to pay such large amounts. This is a business industry, so adoptive parents have large control on where to put their money.

The fee breakdown for adoption agencies is usually similar with slight extras here and there. Most of the time, you will have an application fee, generally around $200-$500, which is non-refundable. The next fee is the home study fee, generally around $1,500. Every adoptive family will have this fee. This fee is paid to an agency you choose, but you could then adopt from another agency. Say you want a local agency doing your home study, they can then send the home study to another agency who works nationally in all states to complete the adoption plan. Just be careful of extra fees for a home study review or for mailing documents. Of course, you can also have the same agency do your home study and adoption. This is the most convenient. Your home study will also need to be updated. Some states require this yearly and some every three years—this will be another fee.

Some agencies, like Catholic Charities, use a sliding scale to determine your adoption fee based on your household income. For instance, a household making $40,000 a year will be paying a $15,000 adoption fee. A household making $120,000 will be paying a $24,000 adoption fee. This fee is paid in increments and covers all the intense paperwork, marketing and outreach, pre-adoption counseling for you and the expectant mom, and post-placement services. Many other agencies do not use a sliding scale which makes it harder for more families to adopt. Generally, you will pay in thirds: at the time of match, at the time of birth, and at the time of finalization.

Marketing and Outreach

To further breakdown the adoption fee, for example, one part will be the digital marketing and outreach fee. Agencies charge a fee for marketing themselves to potential birth mothers online. They use search engine optimization, social media, etc. This is a tricky thing because nobody is sure what is an appropriate amount to charge for this. More expensive agencies may say $10,000 of their fee is just devoted to online marketing so birth mothers can find them. Other agencies who are less expensive may only charge $2,000 and use mostly word of mouth or rely on pregnancy crisis center referrals or not even devote much time to online marketing via social media. You also have to look at who the agency serves—how wide a net they cast. If they’re a nationwide search, perhaps they need more marketing; however, local agencies need the same marketing online if they wish to find potential birth moms online and not in person. It is up to you as the adoptive couple to consider what you feel is appropriate for this fee. With it being so vague in that you don’t know exactly what all their efforts are, you may not be comfortable spending $10,000 on online marketing when another agency would only charge $2,000. Again, not everything is transparent, so use your best judgment and ask as many questions as you can.

Using an adoption attorney for a private adoption, where you connect with the expectant mom online yourself and don’t use an agency, can be less expensive; however, there are pitfalls here such as not having the training to know what to say in expectant mom conversations and also not knowing what red flags are present for potential scams. This, unfortunately, happens a lot. An expectant mom or a woman who is not even pregnant will scam a hopeful adoptive couple out of money for her medical bills, etc. My advice, if you locate and match yourself with an expectant mom, would be to then hire an agency. That way you can at least avoid the fees for media and technology which find potential birth moms (because you already found one). Still, if you choose just the private route without an agency, please do make sure the expectant mom is receiving counseling and that you are using an adoption-competent lawyer. “Family law” lawyer isn’t enough; you need an adoption-specific lawyer.

Birth Mother Expenses

Sometimes adoptive families will have birth mother expenses. You are not required to do this, but agencies will allow you to offer $1,000 or $5,000 or some amount to cover her prenatal care and hospital bills. Housing is something you can offer to cover as well. There are some agencies that will fly an expectant mom out to a state, say Utah, and provide them with housing and companionship until they give birth and fly home. For some, this is welcomed so they can be away from the birth father or other bad situation. Lately, however, I have been hearing the adoption community voice negative opinions about this practice. To me, it seems a bit coercive. It seems the expectant mom is being isolated or just valued for her reproductive abilities. Personally, I don’t prefer this practice. The main point here with birth mother fees is you never want to pay an expectant mom directly; this is where adoptive families can be scammed. You want the amount to be set and paid by the agency (the agency is the middle man).

International Adoption

International adoption, while still an option, has been on the decline in recent years. The length of time it takes plus the multiple trips to the country make the cost higher and the appeal less popular. You’re looking at paying for the adoption plus possibly a two-week trip (airfare plus hotel) and may be required to visit two or three times. You’re also more likely to be adopting a toddler-aged child (or older) rather than a newborn. There are pros and cons to that; however, going into international adoption generally means a lot more cost. Another factor to consider when adopting internationally is the unpredictability of the country’s adoption laws. Some countries will ban adoptions, as Russia or Ethiopia have. Sometimes it’s in response to worries about the children; other times, it’s merely political. At the Holt International website, you can find detailed information for each country. They list China adoptions as going up to 38,000 and Colombian adoptions going up to 48,000.

Foster Care Adoption

Foster care (that may or may not lead to adoption) or fostering children who are legally free for adoption will be the least expensive way to bring a child into your home: $2,000 and under is the general amount charged. You should not go into foster care if your intention is to bring a young child home and adopt them right away. Many children in the foster care system are trying to be reunified with their birth family. You, as a foster parent, are to care for them while this process happens and may see them move on to another foster home or see them return to the birth family. Some end in adoption, but it’s not guaranteed. The children who are legally free for adoption are those who have been through reunification efforts but they haven’t worked out. They are not going back to the birth family; they are able to be adopted. They are usually children age 8 and over. Check with your local foster care to see about their current needs. There is a shortage of foster parents right now partly due to the opioid crisis causing more foster children.

One important, though often overlooked, factor in cost is what you lose versus what is held over for you to a different adoption attempt in the case of a failed match or failed adoption (the proper term being a disrupted adoption). We adopted in 2015, and then our second adoption journey had a disruption in 2018 where the expectant mom chose to parent the baby. We are now waiting again but are thankful that we did not lose any money on that disruption. Some agencies are not upfront about this, but you should ask what fees are lost and which can carry over to a new adoption situation. This is no small thing; sometimes you are at risk of losing close to $15,000. This could be a deciding factor in which agency you choose—the one who doesn’t completely gouge you in the case of a disruption. The only money we lost was simple gas money driving an hour to see the expectant mom a few times—no big deal. We want to use the term “disruption” rather than “failed” because we never want to call it a failure when a woman decides to parent her own child. No matter what an agency tells you, they absolutely cannot predict which expectant moms will choose parenting and which will choose adoption.

Adoption Tax Credit

Remember also that there is an adoption tax credit. After adoption finalization, you may file for this. The amount will vary, but for instance, our $24,000 adoption gave us about $9,000 back. “The credit is nonrefundable, which means it’s limited to your tax liability for the year. However, any credit in excess of your tax liability may be carried forward for up to five years. The maximum amount (dollar limit) for 2018 is $13,810 per child,” according to IRS.gov. There are adoption grants you can apply to for financial help; however, you may only qualify if you’re in a lower income bracket. People also do things like fundraising on their own; however, I would not count on raising all that much from it. It will be a small dent, like a garage sale or T-shirt sales. Some families also look to crowdfunding online. Any amount is better than nothing though! Another thing you can do is check with your employer to see if they offer any adoptive parent benefits. There is also a potential military reimbursement for service members who adopt a child.

Adoption is a heavy, stressful, and financially draining experience which is why you want to ease your own burden by doing research and being comfortable with whatever route—international, domestic, or foster care—you choose. Once you are ready to roll with the agency of your choice or method of your choice, it becomes a much more hopeful and happy experience. I don’t mind paying our agency because we believe in them. Do I wish it were less? Of course. Currently, that is what adoption looks like in the U.S. It’s flawed and expensive, but it can be better than you think. Once your baby is home and you’re hopefully experiencing an open adoption, all the paperwork and cost will be but a memory.

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Kristin Anderson is an adoptive mother who lives with her son, husband, and two crazy dogs. She loves open adoption and is always looking for ways to help in the adoption community. You can find her blog at www.lookingforlittleone.wordpress.com