When embarking on your adoption journey, it is hard to know where to begin. What type of adoption would be best for your family? Domestic, foster care, or international? For families who choose to adopt domestically, private adoption is the most common type of adoption. Private adoption refers to the voluntary placement of a child by the birth parents with the adoptive parents. Birth parents may be identified through an agency or independently. Unlike public adoption, otherwise known as adoption from foster care, which typically costs between $1,000-$5,000, the cost of private adoption can be much higher. So how much does private adoption cost? It depends on a number of factors.

Home Study Fees

The first step in any adoption journey is to complete a home study. A home study is essentially a combination of documents, background checks, and interviews designed to highlight your reasons for wanting to adopt, the type of home environment you would provide for a child, and an evaluation of what kind of parent you would be to an adopted child. Every home study must be conducted by a state-licensed social worker. Home studies are typically charged on a sliding scale based on a family’s income, and they run between $2,000-$4,000. Additional fees included in the home study may be co-pays for a physical exam and letter from your physician, as well as the notarization of various documents like letters from your employer, financial statements, and even guardianship plans. Every family member over the age of 18 will need to complete fingerprinting, child abuse and neglect registry, and a background check. The fee for a background check typically runs $60-$75 per person.

Another part of the home study process is pre-adoption education training. State minimums vary, but typically prospective adoptive parents can expect to complete 20 hours of training. The first part of the training (roughly eight hours) is usually offered by the same agency conducting your home study. The cost of the initial pre-adoption education course ranges from $300-$600. Once the course is complete, families may make up the additional hours of training by reading books and completing courses online. Online courses can run from $100-$200 per person.

During the home study, families will be asked to sign a form agreeing to complete all post-placement reporting. In fact, in order for an adoption to be finalized in the United States at least six months of post-placement reporting must be completed before a final order of adoption will be issued by the court. Post-placement fees range from $1,500-$2,000.

The overall cost of the home study, pre-adoption education, and post-placement reporting is between $4,000–$6,000.

Agency vs. Independent Adoption Fees

Families pursuing private adoption in the United States may choose to either work with an adoption agency or to adopt independently. Most states allow independent adoptions, but be sure to check with your state-licensed social worker to double-check. While agency fees may be higher, it’s important to understand a breakdown of all fees before deciding which type of adoption is right for you.

Whereas independent adoptions can be more like an a la carte menu, agency adoptions tend to have all-inclusive fees. This can be useful for families when it comes to budgeting for their adoption. With agency adoptions, you will complete a home study, and then the agency will walk you through every step of the adoption process. With independent adoption, families are responsible for identifying an attorney and other professionals to help them facilitate the adoption process. One of the benefits of independent adoption is prospective adoptive parents may find it easier to forge a relationship with the birth mother, but on the con side, independent adoptions may be more difficult to navigate.

Consulting and Advertising Fees

No matter if you choose an agency or independent adoption, most prospective adoptive parents will need to advertise to prospective birth mothers. State guidelines vary widely on what is permissible with regards to advertising to prospective birth mothers so if you are adopting independently, be sure to check state guidelines. Agencies will know these guidelines in advance. All agencies offer family profiles online and may charge for higher “visibility” listings. Families adopting independently may choose to make their own family profile to advertise. Independent adoption marketing fees can range between $1,000-$5,000 and some families may choose to work with an adoption consultant as well. An adoption consultant will work with you to create your family’s profile and may help recommend certain agencies or advertising opportunities. An adoption consultant typically costs around $2,000.

The cost of consulting and advertising with an independent adoption is $3,000-$7,000. The reason for the variance is because different families choose to engage in advertising at different rates. Some may simply post a family profile with pictures, some may make videos, or some may use print or online ads. Others set up websites and post on social media. When working with an agency, these costs may be slightly less than the fees that are included in an agency’s flat program fee. While steeper than working independently on an adoption, the program fee includes most of the costs associated with advertising, support of the prospective adoptive family, counseling for the birth mother, and much of the legal fees associated with the adoption. Agency private adoption programs range from $12,000-$25,000, with the average program costing around $18,000. An additional $2,000 can be expected for advertising costs with an agency.

Birth Mother Expenses

Once a birth mother has been identified, the prospective adoptive parents can expect to pay for all prenatal expenses including counseling, medical fees, legal fees, travel fees, and reasonable living expenses. Delivery and hospital fees may be applicable as well for all costs not covered by Medicaid or insurance. Postnatal expenses may be paid as well; they usually include up to six weeks following the birth of the child. State guidelines vary in regards to what level of financial support is permissible, so if you are adopting independently, be sure to double-check state guidelines. All monies paid will need to be presented in court before the adoption is finalized. These costs range from $6,000-$8,000 and are fairly consistent regardless of whether a family chooses an agency or independent adoption.

Legal Fees

Legal fees vary widely depending on if a family is working with an agency or if they are pursuing an independent adoption. Families working with an agency will have most of their attorney fees covered through the initial adoption process. These fees include the termination of parental rights, legal counseling, and court reporting services. Once the child is born, the attorney will file an adoption petition in the state where the adoption is taking place. To finalize the adoption, families will need to wait at least six months and have completed all post-placement reporting. At this juncture, families will work independently with an attorney to finalize their adoption in the state where they live (which may not necessarily be the state where the child was born). The average cost of attorney fees with private agency adoption is $4,500.

Families adopting independently will need to rely more heavily on an adoption attorney to navigate the terms of the adoption. In addition to the termination of parental rights, legal counseling, and court reporting services, adoption attorneys may negotiate post-placement contact as well as birth mother expenses. Attorney fees vary by state and the length of time required to complete the adoption. Independent adoptions run between $7,000-$15,000. All legal fees include a retainer so families can expect to pay the firm incrementally until the adoption is finalized.

Travel Fees

One of the final costs associated with adoption is travel. For many families, domestic adoption occurs across state lines and even for those in-state, some travel may be required. Since adoption travel is typically last minute, the flight and hotel costs may be higher than when booking other travel. Families will need to stay in town until written consent to the adoption is given by the birth mother. Consent laws vary from state to state and may be anywhere from a few hours to a week. Families adopting across state lines will also need to wait to return home until their Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children clearance comes through. Clearances may take anywhere from seven to 10 business days. Most private adoptions cost between $2,000 to $3,000 for adoption-related travel expenses. One tip to afford adoption travel: save up on hotel or airline points or better yet, ask for donations. Many airlines will accept donated miles which may significantly reduce your cost of travel.

Total Costs

The total cost of private adoption depends on whether a family chooses to adopt through an agency or independently. Overall, the cost to adopt with an agency ranges from $30,500 to $48,500. To adopt independently, the cost ranges from $25,000 to $38,000. Though independent adoption may be less expensive, cost alone should not be the determining factor in deciding one type of adoption over another. Time is a huge factor in the process as well so the longer families need to advertise, engage an attorney, or update their home study (an annual process) the more costs may be incurred.

Affording Adoption

When embarking on the journey of adoption, many families are surprised at the costs associated with adoption. But, with a little planning, affording adoption is possible. First, it is important to remember that not all costs are due at once. After initial application fees, home study fees will be due. Costs associated with agency programming fees are typically due upon the completion of a home study (three to six months later on average), and birth mother expenses are not due until a family is matched with a prospective birth mother.

Most families do not have $35,000-$40,000 laying around, and there are things you can do to help your adoption journey. There are many grants available for prospective adoptive parents ranging from $500-$5,000 or more. Creative fundraising can be an excellent tool too. Think about ways your community may get involved in your adoption journey. Yard sales; bake sales; selling puzzle pieces, artwork, T-shirts, or jewelry can all be great ways to engage people. There are also crowdsourcing platforms, like AdoptTogether, which allow family and friends to donate via a certified 501(c)(3) organization. Look at low-interest and no-interest adoption loans as amounts are available between $3,000-$8,000, and most adoption loans offer 60-72 months to repay the principle.

Finally, there is the Adoption Tax Credit. The Adoption Tax Credit, or ATC, has been around since 1997 but was made permanent by Congress in 2013. Originally only applicable to special needs adoptions, the ATC now is available to any and all families who are adopting. In 2019, the ATC will be $14,080 for each child adopted. So if a family adopting privately adopts twins, the amount that family could claim would be $28,160. The good thing about the ATC for families pursuing domestic adoption is that the costs incurred may be applied the year after. Unlike international adoption, where the adoption must have been finalized in order for the family to be able to claim the Adoption Tax Credit, if, in 2018, a family spent $8,000 on their home study and some advertising fees, then those costs could be applied to the family’s 2019 tax return. The family has up to five years to claim the full amount (of $14,080) so if only $5,000 is claimed in 2019, the balance of $9,080 will be rolled over into the 2020 tax year. The great thing about the ATC is that it functions as a tax credit rather than a tax deduction. A tax deduction simply lowers how much income may be taxed. A tax credit, on the other hand, reduces the amount of money you owe in a dollar-for-dollar exchange. The other good news is that even if an adoption fails, families may still claim the full amount (provided they spent more than $14,080 on the adoption). One tip: be sure to keep track of all receipts, agency fees, and attorney fees so you’re ready when tax season comes.

Jennifer S. Jones is a writer, performer, storyteller, and arts educator. She holds an MFA (Playwriting) from NYU Tisch. She has written numerous plays including the internationally renowned, award-winning Appearance of Life. Her amazing transracial transcultural family was created through adoption from China and India. She is passionate about the adoption community and talks about the ins and outs, ups and downs, joys and “is this really us?!” whenever she can. She writes about her experiences at www.letterstojack.com.