Adoption is a life-changing journey. Whether the choice to adopt comes after a long, hard battle with infertility or is a route you’ve always wanted to take, the choice to welcome a new family member is rarely a financial one, but rather a decision of the heart.
Yet, at some point, prospective adoptive parents will have to consider the costs. And total adoption costs can vary widely depending on the route taken, from almost nothing to $50,000 or more.
It’s unlikely your decision to adopt will boil down to numbers. The choice to become a parent isn’t at all like budgeting for a purchase of any kind. But it always helps to know what to expect. The figures provided below are a starting point to help you prepare your budget and to make an informed decision about which type of adoption makes the most sense for your family.
The Cost to Adopt
There are three basic types of adoption. Some costs are common to all three types, such as the expense of a home study, which involves visits by a social worker, background checks, and financial checks. Other costs are unique to the particular adoption route, such as the travel expenses involved with an international adoption or the advertising fees to find a birth mother with a domestic infant adoption.
Pro tip: Once you make the decision to adopt a child, you’re going to want to start saving immediately if you haven’t done so already. Open a high yield savings account at a bank like CIT Bank and make regular contributions.
Domestic Infant Adoption
According to Adoptive Families Magazine’s annual survey, infant adoptions in the U.S. made with the assistance of an adoption agency cost almost $44,000 on average. Costs can vary from one agency to another, however, and it’s not unusual for domestic adoptions to cost as much as $50,000.
You can save a little money by adopting independently with only the help of an adoption attorney. However, you must find a birth mother on your own in this case. There are also other risks that could present additional costs, such as a higher risk the birth mother might walk away from the arrangement after you’ve paid medical fees and living expenses. This route can also feel prohibitively expensive, as its average cost is nearly $38,000.
Why is it so expensive to adopt an infant in the United States? The services involved in the adoption process can be complex. The journey to bring a child home involves many parties, including attorneys, social workers, physicians, counselors, government administrators, and adoption specialists. There are also costs associated with matching birth mothers and adoptive parents. These expenses are necessary to ensure the health of the mother and child during pregnancy, as well as the safety and security of the child after placement with their forever family.
To give you an idea of what the breakdown could look like, here are just a few of the associated costs, according to Adoptive Families Magazine:
Costs of Adopting an Infant Through an Adoption Agency
- Agency Fees: $18,826
- Legal Fees: $4,435
- Birth Mother Expenses: $3,411
- Home Study Fee: $2,433
- Average Estimated Total: $29,105
Costs of an Independent Adoption With an Attorney Only
- Attorney/Legal Fees: $13,780
- Birth Mother Expenses: $5,604
- Home Study Fee: $2,152
- Average Estimated Total: $21,536
Many who are unfamiliar with the adoption process believe it’s less expensive to adopt a child from another country. But the reverse is more often true. While international adoption has some similarities to domestic adoption, it has its own unique steps and costs that can quickly escalate beyond the cost of domestic adoption.
According to Adoptive Families Magazine, international adoptions cost an average of $44,000 — although, as with domestic adoption, they can easily reach costs of $50,000 or more. And due to accreditation fees announced by the U.S. State Department in 2018, costs are likely to increase even further.
As with domestic adoptions, the expense is due to the complexity of the process. In the case of international adoptions, the complexity is double. Not only are prospective adoptive parents required to pay fees to their U.S. adoption facilitator and the U.S. government, but they must also pay fees to the country from which they’re adopting the child. They must also pay travel expenses to either meet with the child in their home country or have the child escorted to the U.S.
Costs can vary widely from one country to another. But to give you an idea of some of the associated costs, here is the average cost of adopting a child from China, according to Adoptive Families Magazine.
Costs of Adopting From China
- Home Study Fee: $2,485
- Adoption Agency Fees: $10,509
- In-Country Adoption Expenses: $4,571
- Travel Expenses: $9,290
- Average Estimated Total: $36,441
The least expensive route to growing your family is unquestionably public adoption, or adopting through the foster care system. Public adoption costs next to nothing because the government subsidizes many of the associated fees and costs. If you apply to foster to adopt, you can also have some of your child’s living expenses subsidized while you’re waiting on finalization.
Keep in mind, though, that if you have your heart set on adopting a newborn, public adoption is most likely not the route for you. There are certainly babies in the foster care system who’ve been abandoned by their biological parents or taken by the state due to abuse, neglect, or drug addiction. But no child in the system — infant or otherwise — is immediately available for adoption. The state’s No. 1 priority is to reunite children with their biological families.
Once a child enters the system, the state makes every effort to reunite them with their parents, which includes extensive sessions with counselors and social workers. If that effort ultimately proves unsuccessful, the state next tries to place the child with a biological relative. Only after these efforts — which could take three years or more — are children made available for adoption. And if they were placed with a foster family, that family gets the first chance at adoption.
However, if you’re interested in adopting an older child, and you’re prepared to work with the trauma they’ve experienced, the rewards of opening your heart and home to one of the many kids in the foster care system can be immense. My parents adopted my little brother from foster care at the age of six, and his presence has enriched our family in a myriad of ways.
According to Adoptive Families Magazine, the average cost of public adoption is about $3,000. In addition to miscellaneous fees, the main costs of public adoption are a home study fee and attorney fees.
Costs of Public Adoption
- Home Study Fee: $248
- Attorney Fees: $947
- Average Estimated Total, minus misc fees: $1195
Other Costs to Consider
In addition to the costs associated with the adoption itself, there are a few others to keep in mind that can have a significant impact on your overall family budget.
Every adoption is unique, and though adoption agencies typically try to work within your budget, unforeseen costs can occasionally raise the base projected cost. Sometimes, these variable costs can push the total cost of adoption beyond a family’s financial ability.
Birth Mother Expenses
If a birth mother doesn’t have insurance and is unable to qualify for Medicaid, the cost of covering her medical expenses could be immense. Birth mother expenses are court-approved funds adoptive families provide to help prospective birth mothers with pregnancy-related expenses. Costs could include medical care, living expenses, maternity clothing, and groceries. These expenses contribute to the total cost of adoption and can vary widely from one adoption to another.
The longer you have to wait for the right match with a birth mother, the more money an agency must pay toward advertising to find you one. Be sure to ask your adoption agency how they deal with this variable cost. Some give you one flat fee regardless of the amount of advertising required; others set a variable cost.
Lawyers are necessary for dealing with the legal aspects of any adoption. These include the original consent to adoption and termination of parental rights, as well as the court proceedings to finalize the adoption.
If you’re lucky enough to work for an adoption-friendly workplace, you might be able to take paid time off to spend with your new child. Unfortunately, in the U.S., paid parental leave isn’t guaranteed by law, and many workplaces don’t have this benefit. Even when they do, it may not apply to adoptive mothers.
Be sure to check with your own human resources (HR) department on whether your workplace offers adoption benefits. If it doesn’t, and you know you’ll need them when your adoptive child arrives, you might want to consider switching jobs. The Dave Thomas Foundation has a list of adoption-friendly workplaces and compiles an annual “100 Best Adoption-Friendly Workplaces List.”
If you decide to switch jobs, check with your new HR department to see how long you must be an employee before you can access benefits. Some companies require you to work for at least a year to qualify for paid leave. While you could wait as long as three years for your adoptive child, matches are sometimes made almost immediately with birth mothers who have just delivered.
Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
Regardless of whether your employer offers paid time off, all adoptive parents are entitled to up to 12 weeks of leave through the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA equally guarantees maternity and paternity leave for biological and adoptive parents.
According to the Department of Labor, eligible employees can take unpaid leave for specific family and medical reasons without fear of losing their jobs. One of those specified family reasons includes caring for a newly placed adoptive child.
When it comes to using FMLA, though, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, you must work for an “eligible employer” and be an “eligible employee.” That means working for at least a year in a public sector job or for a private company with at least 50 employees.
FMLA is designed to protect employees, but these stipulations mean it doesn’t always. And unfortunately, pregnancy discrimination is real. New mothers, as well as fathers, can face unsupportive workplace issues, whether they’re adopting their child or having a biological one. For instance, when my good friend adopted her first child, her husband had not yet worked at his company for a year. When he took some time off to go to the hospital when their new adoptive baby was born, his employer got upset and fired him. The qualifications for employers and employees, as defined by the FMLA, currently leave a lot of parents — adoptive and biological alike — outside its protection.
The second thing to keep in mind is that the FMLA only guarantees your job and your health insurance; it does not guarantee paid time off. If your company doesn’t provide paid parental leave and you’re forced to fall back on FMLA, you’ll need to plan for any lost wages during your time off.
This happened with my husband and me after the birth of our son. He took six weeks off so he could help out during my required six-week recovery time following a C-section, as well as bond with our new baby. But because his job didn’t provide paid paternity leave, those six weeks were unpaid, and we had to dip into our savings to cover the lost income.
The costs of adoption may feel formidable, especially if you have your heart set on adopting an infant through domestic or international adoption. But they don’t have to be insurmountable.
There are many resources available to help families afford to adopt. Explore all of your options, including talking with adoption professionals, before completely ruling it out. Also, consider talking with other families who’ve adopted. Many are happy to share their stories to help others fulfill their dreams of a family.
Have you adopted any of your children? Were there any costs that surprised you?