How Much Does it Cost to Adopt a Child? – Avoid Paying Too Much
Did you know:
- some agencies fail to include certain "hidden" fees in their overall adoption costs, meaning you could pay more than their original estimate?
- even if an adoption professional charges a lot of money for a service doesn't mean they are necessarily experts at providing that service?
- some agencies offer refunds if an adoption opportunity disrupts or if certain expenses (medical) aren't used by the end of the adoption?
Avoid paying exorbitant moneys by reading this important article about how much it costs to adopt a child domestically:
The first question on the mind of nearly every family considering adoption is “How much does it cost to adopt a child?” Then, once they find out that adoption costs can range from $20,000 to $50,000, their next question is often, “Why does it cost so much to adopt a child?”
The simple answer is that many different people and services are required to legally, physically and emotionally complete a domestic infant adoption. The total cost of infant adoption includes advertising, matching, case management, counseling, support, legal, medical and living expenses. Many of these costs will vary depending on the adoption professional — and so will the services adoptive parents receive in exchange.
Types of Adoption Professionals
There are several types of adoption professionals for adoptive families to choose from. Each type of professional varies in the services it offers and the fees it charges for each service. It is important to have a basic understanding of the various types of adoption professionals you may choose to work with.
- National Adoption Agency – National adoption agencies work with clients across all 50 states, are licensed and regulated by state authorities, often in multiple states, and provide a wide variety of services to adoptive families.
- Local or Regional Adoption Agency – Like national agencies, local adoption agencies often provide many of the same services as national agencies, but may only work with adoptive families and birth parents in a specific state or region.
- Adoption Attorney – An adoption attorney is needed in every adoption to complete the necessary legal services. Attorney services are coordinated for the client in an agency adoption, but a family pursuingindependent adoption may choose to work with an attorney as their primary adoption professional.
- Adoption Facilitator – Adoption facilitators are unlicensed and unregulated adoption professionals that usually only provide matching services. Adoptive families who choose to work with a facilitator will need to find another professional to provide all other necessary services.
When an adoptive family reaches out to an adoption professional, they will often receive a quote for the average total cost of the adoption.
It’s important for hopeful families to remember that cheaper isn’t always better, as these averages can sometimes be misleading.
Fee structures vary from one professional to the next, and some professionals underestimate certain services, charge separate fees for some services, or simply don’t provide a particular service altogether – all of which make it nearly impossible for us to provide a detailed list of individual adoption costs for each adoption service provided by each adoption professional.
While we can’t give you specific costs for each type of professional, we can equip you with information and questions to ask certain adoption professionals when researching their adoption costs. Read on to learn more about these costs, and at the bottom of this article find how much it costs to adopt a child with some of the country’s top adoption professionals.
Below, learn about the services necessary to complete an adoption, the average cost for each, and the adoption professionals that can provide them.
The total cost of an adoption can be broken down into two main costs: agency fees and variable expenses.
Agency fees are the moneys paid to the adoption professional, cover all of the services that contribute to the overall experience and success of the adoption, and should remain static regardless of how long an individual service takes to complete.
While the following agency fees are not legally required, they are logistically required in order for both an adoptive family and birth mother to successfully and safely reach their adoption goals.
Most adoptive families choose to work with an adoption agency because they require help to find a prospective birth mother. Advertising expenses often make up a major portion of agency expenses and contribute to the time in which an adoption opportunity will be presented to the adoptive family.
Advertising expenses are used for:
- online advertising (Google, Bing)
- traditional advertising (TV, radio, billboards, newspapers, magazines)
- networking with other adoption professionals
- website management
- and much more
The amount an adoption professional spends on advertising often directly correlates with the number of pregnant mothers they work with at a given time. The more advertising and more birth mothers, the better chance an adoptive family has to be selected for an adoption opportunity. Obviously, this is highly important, as no adoptive parent wants to wait a long time to grow his or her family!
When selecting an adoption professional to work with, look for full-service agencies that are focused on advertising, have a dedicated marketing team and have researched advertising and marketing strategies to deliver the best results to clients. Be aware of adoption professionals that outsource marketing services for an additional fee or leave it to the adoptive family to work with another professional and advertise on their own.
*While we haven’t included advertising services under “variable expenses,” they may vary with some adoption professionals. This isn’t recommended, as a long wait to find a birth mother could result in exorbitant advertising fees paid by the adoptive family. These fees will also vary if an adoptive family advertises themselves to find a birth mother.
The advertising services generally offered by each type of adoption professional include:
National Adoption Agencies: National agencies often provide the most robust advertising services and budgets. They often have expert marketing teams that track ad performance, have extensive advertising networks, and put time and effort into researching the most effective ways to advertise. They are able to advertise across the country, giving them access to many more prospective birth mothers than other types of professionals. It’s recommended to find an adoption agency that only charges one flat fee for these services, regardless of how long it takes to find a match.
Local and Regional Adoption Agencies: While a local adoption agency may still have a significant advertising budget, they are limited to advertising to pregnant mothers within their state or region, which could add to the adoptive family’s wait time.
Adoption Attorneys: While required in every adoption, attorneys often do not provide advertising services, and in some states, it is illegal for them to do so. They may however have many connections to other adoption professionals who can help the adoptive family find an adoption opportunity. Many adoptive parents choose to work with an adoption attorney only after they have located a prospective birth mother on their own.
Facilitators and Law Centers: Adoption facilitators often provide good advertising and matching services. They are experts in marketing and will spend a lot of money in this area; however, this is often the only service they offer.
Questions to Ask an Adoption Professional:
- What is the cost for advertising?
- Is this factored into the total adoption cost you quoted us, or is it separate?
- Do you charge a flat advertising fee, regardless of how long it takes us to find a prospective birth mother?
- Will we ever have to pay to renew our advertising services?
- What is included in the advertising and matching fee? What advertising platforms do you use?
- If you spend less on advertising than the national average, how are you able to advertise as effectively as larger professionals that spend more time, money and resources on advertising?
- What is your average wait time for adoptive families?
Once an adoption professional’s advertising services successfully reach a pregnant mother considering adoption, their matching services then contribute to helping her find the right adoptive family for her adoption plan.
These expenses include adoptive family profile and/or video profile development, social worker matching and screening services, facilitation of contact between the adoptive family and pregnant mother, and more. Matching expenses allow the adoption professional you are working with to help find a potential birth mother whose needs and wants are similar to yours.
National Adoption Agencies: These agencies often have their own media department that develops in-house adoptive family profiles or even adoptive family video profiles. An adoption specialist will work with a prospective birth mother to determine the type of adoptive family she is seeking, and she will be presented several profiles to choose from.
Local and Regional Adoption Agencies: Local agencies offer similar matching services as national adoption agencies, but usually work with fewer birth mothers. However, because of their proximity to local birth mothers, they may be able to offer matching services in person, including facilitating pre-placement meetings between the adopting family and birth mother.
Adoption Attorneys: Many adoption attorneys are unable to provide matching services, and if they do, it is often through a paralegal who is not an expert in this area of adoption. They may however partner with an adoption agency to outsource their matching services.
Facilitators and Law Centers: Facilitators may provide matching services but often remove themselves from the process once a match is made. However, in reality, the matching process does not necessarily end after a match is made, as continued contact facilitation and support is required to ensure the match is right for both parties.
Questions to Ask an Adoption Professional:
- How do you match adoptive families to prospective birth parents? What criteria do you use to make a match? How do you ensure that an expectant mother’s adoption plan matches our own?
- Will you develop our adoptive family profile? Is there an additional fee for this service?
- How do you screen prospective birth mothers and gauge their commitment to adoption?
- How is pre-placement contact mediated?
Counseling and Support
To keep the option of adoption free for pregnant women, adoptive families are asked to cover the costs of counseling. These services are extremely important for women currently dealing with an unplanned pregnancy and going through with an adoption plan.
Available support is instrumental in helping pregnant women address their fears and apprehensions about placing their children for adoption. These services can help prepare them for the many emotions they will feel throughout the adoption process. Additionally, having a professional to talk to after placing a child for adoption can help a woman begin to heal and grieve in a healthy way.
Birth parent counseling generally accounts for a small portion of the overall adoption cost, but it can provide vital support for pregnant women and help them remain committed to their adoption plan. Adoption professionals that do not provide adequate counseling and support services are at risk of a higher adoption disruption rate.
National Adoption Agencies: Most national agencies have large, qualified staffs that are able to provide a variety of counseling services, including phone counseling. Some even provide 24-hour support to women considering adoption via a hotline or licensed birth parent specialist available by phone, email, text or video chat. Most national agencies will charge a flat fee for these services, regardless of how many prospective birth parents they talk to or how much support a pregnant woman needs.
Local and Regional Adoption Agencies: Local adoption agencies provide many of the same services as national agencies, but likely have smaller staffs and may be less accessible. They are not likely to provide 24/7 support or have the same amount of experience providing counseling services to prospective birth parents. They often can, however, meet with their local pregnant mothers face to face to provide these counseling services.
Adoption Attorneys: Lawyers seldom have the credentials to provide necessary counseling services. They may refer families to another adoption professional for these services at an additional cost. If they do provide counseling and support services, they may charge an hourly rate. If an adoptive family wants the attorney to meet with several prospective birth parents, this hourly fee structure will quickly drive counseling and support costs up.
Facilitators and Law Centers: These professionals don’t have the credentials to provide counseling services. Counseling will have to be obtained from another professional at an additional cost.
Questions to Ask an Adoption Professional:
- What is included in your agency fees?
- How much of that money goes toward birth parent counseling and support?
- Do you charge separate fees for case management or birth parent counseling?
- What counseling and support services do you provide?
- Are you available 24/7 to provide support to pregnant mothers considering adoption?
- Do you charge a flat fee or hourly rate for birth parent screening, counseling and support?
- Do you have qualified social workers or counselors on staff?
- Do you outsource any counseling and support services?
Variable expenses contribute to the services that are required in every adoption and often change based on a number of factors. An adoption professional should go out of their way to keep the following variable costs as minimal as possible.
Legal expenses make up another large portion of the overall adoption cost because there are many processes required to ensure you become the legal parents of your adopted child.
An attorney is needed to ensure the legal rights of the birth parents have been properly terminated, the child’s birth certificate is reissued with the adoptive parents’ names listed, any Interstate Compact of the Placement of Children (ICPC) paperwork has been properly filed, all state adoption laws have been followed, and much more.
It is difficult to calculate a national average for legal adoption costs because of differences in state adoption laws and processes. However, it is important in every adoption to ensure — and pay for — solid legal work.
National Adoption Agencies: Legal fees are paid to the agency, which will often hire a trusted outside lawyer from their legal network. National agencies often have relationships with the best attorneys across the country who can complete legal work efficiently.
Local and Regional Adoption Agencies: Like national agencies, local agencies will often coordinate an attorney for the adoptive family. Local and regional adoption agencies often work with local attorneys who are familiar with state adoption laws and processes.
Attorneys: Obviously, adoption attorneys are experts in providing the necessary legal services for adoption. However, these professionals often charge hourly fees and may combine legal services with case management fees, making it difficult for them to accurately estimate an adoptive family’s legal expenses or the total cost of adoption.
Facilitators and Law Centers: These professionals do not provide legal services. Legal services will have to be obtained from an attorney at an additional cost
Why legal expenses may vary:
- Amount of legal work required varies by state law
- Costs of adoption attorney may vary based on location, cost of living, and experience
- If an adoption is contested, legal fees could increase significantly
Questions to Ask an Adoption Professional:
- Do you coordinate legal services, or will I need to contact an attorney on my own?
- Is there an additional fee for you to consult with an attorney on my behalf?
- Will legal fees be paid to you or directly to the attorney completing the legal work?
- On average, how much can an adoptive family expect to spend on legal services?
- On average, how long does the legal adoption process take?
- What services are included in the legal cost you quoted me?
Women considering adoption often need financial assistance throughout their pregnancy and the adoption process, and adoptive families may cover these costs for prospective birth mothers. Living expenses refer to items associated with cost of living, including rent, groceries, utilities, maternity clothing and more.
Some adoption professionals may put a cap on the amount of living expenses an adoptive family will pay. They may present these savings as a positive, but limiting birth parent expenses is actually a negative. If an adoption professional is unwilling to provide a prospective birth mother with what she needs, she will likely choose to work with another adoption professional that will provide the full amount of living expenses that an adoptive family can legally pay, therefore increasing an adoptive family’s wait time.
Living expenses should be paid to the adoption professional, who will then either directly pay her bills or provide her gift cards to use for specific items, ensuring all living expenses are going toward for what they are intended.
Why living expenses may vary:
- State adoption laws allow varying amounts of maximum living expenses
- Pregnant mothers require varying amounts of financial assistance
Questions to Ask an Adoption Professional:
- How much can we expect to pay in birth parent living expenses?
- Do you pay birth mothers the full legal amount of living expenses, or do you limit the amount that an adoptive family can pay?
- Will you mediate all living expense payments?
- Are payments made directly to the prospective birth mother, or do you provide gift cards and payments to a third party (such as landlord, utility providers, etc.)?
Medical expenses often make up a large portion of the overall adoption cost, as adoptive parents are generally expected to pay for any medical expenses for the birth mother and child that are not covered by insurance. Depending on a birth mother’s medical needs and insurance situation, these costs can add up quickly.
When looking for an adoption professional, ask them how they check into a birth mother’s insurance, and if she doesn’t have insurance, how they proceed to help get her on Medicaid.
Why medical expenses may vary:
- Co-pays and deductibles may vary
- Certain pregnancies and deliveries may require additional medical treatment
Questions to Ask an Adoption Professional:
- How do you help limit medical expenses incurred by the adoptive family?
- How do you ensure a birth mother’s insurance covers her pregnancy and delivery?
- If she doesn’t have health insurance, how do you help her get on Medicaid?
- Do you work with any third-party professionals to oversee a birth mother’s insurance and eligibility for Medicaid?
Additional Adoption Expenses and Services
- Home Study and Home Study Review
The home study is an important part of every adoption process. Some local and national adoption agencies are licensed to perform the adoption home study. However, adoptive families will often be responsible for obtaining a home study separately from their adoption professional. Ask your adoption professional whether he or she is licensed to perform the home study in your state, or whether they charge a home study review or processing fee.
- Post-Placement Contact
If you are interested in pursuing a semi-open adoption, you will likely require post-placement contact mediation. This service is generally only provided by adoption agencies, but most include this service in their agency fees. Ask your adoption professional whether they provide post-placement contact mediation, whether there is a fee for this service, and how long after the adoption placement they will continue to provide this service.
- Overhead Fees
Many adoption professionals will charge an overhead fee. These agency fees will generally cover operational costs of the business: salaries, utilities, rent, etc. Depending on how the adoption professional structures their fees, these additional costs can range from moderate to high.
- Travel Costs
If you are completing an adoption outside of your home state, there will likely be some travel costs associated with the adoption. Depending on how far you will have to travel and how long you will have to stay, these costs can vary greatly.
Calculating Overall Adoption Costs
There are many factors to consider when determining the overall cost of an adoption. Adoptive families should do thorough research to find the adoption professional that is financially right for them. It is recommended to contact multiple adoption professionals and compare the estimated prices they quote as well as the services they offer.
Here are some questions to ask prospective adoption professionals throughout your search:
- What services are included in the total cost you quoted us? Ask whether the above services are included in the estimated overall price, and find out whether any fees will expire and need to be renewed.
- What expenses are variable? Medical, legal and living expenses almost always vary, but be aware of any other fees that may change over time. Advertising is a common one — look for an adoption professional that quotes a flat advertising fee, rather than one that bases its advertising costs on the amount of time it takes to find an expectant mother.
- Can we set a maximum budget? Variable expenses can be difficult to predict, and they can sometimes push an adoption opportunity beyond a family’s budget. Ask whether the professional can guarantee an adoption within a set budget.
- What if the adoption disrupts? While there are some things adoptive parents can do to reduce the risk of an adoption disruption, there is always a chance that an expectant mother will change her mind and choose to parent. Ask whether there is any disruption protection for adoptive families. If so, ask which funds are refunded, whether they are refunded immediately or rolled over into another adoption opportunity.
Adoption Costs’ Red Flags
- Low Cost Estimates: If an adoption professional quotes an overall adoption cost lower than the national average, you may question their ability to compete with professionals that charge more for these services. For example, an agency that spends $1,000 on marketing and advertising is likely not as effective as an agency that charges within the national average.
- Recurring Fees, Hidden Costs and Costs not Estimated or Included: Look for as many flat fees as possible, and get a full list of all services included with each expense.
- Cut Services or Costs: If you are not working with a full-service adoption professional, where are they cutting corners? Consider the services they don’t provide and the expenses they don’t charge for, and consider the impact it may have on your overall adoption cost. For example, if an adoption professional does not provide counseling services, will you need to outsource these services for an additional fee? Or will you risk the expenses you do have to pay, only to have the birth mother change her mind when she doesn’t receive the emotional support she needs?
As you can see, summing up various adoption costs can be challenging. Adoption fees and professionals’ quotes are not always simple and straightforward. It is important to ensure you fully understand a professional’s fee structure and services before committing to them. However, with careful research, you can find the adoption professional that is financially right for you.
How much it costs to adopt a child with some of the nation’s top adoption professionals:
American Adoptions is a national agency specializing in private domestic adoptions of healthy newborns. The agency works with prospective adoptive parents and pregnant women across all 50 states. Their website lists all adoption services and expenses and provides median adoption costs for their traditional and agency-assisted programs:
- Traditional Program: Median $39,189/Average $40,121
- Agency-Assisted Program: Median $31,789/Average $30,789
Heart to Heart Adoptions is a nonprofit adoption agency based in Utah that works with clients throughout the United States. According to their website, the cost for an adoption in Utah or Illinois can range from $41,500–$43,050, plus additional post-placement visits, legal and medical fees. Some placement fees are subsidized for certain adoption situations.
Premier Adoption Agency is a regulated adoption agency licensed in Arizona, Nevada and Utah. Their placement fees are determined on a sliding scale based on the adoptive family’s gross income. With the addition of the application and matching fees, agency expenses range from $17,450–$25,450, plus home study, legal, travel and birth mother expenses.
Adoptions Together is an adoption agency serving the Washington/Baltimore area. The placement fee is determined on a sliding scale based on gross annual income, ranging from $12,000–$29,000. This fee does not include post-placement reports or legal fees. The agency provides marketing consultation, referral to local social workers and attorneys, support and guidance, and post-placement contact for an additional annual $1,000 fee.
Lifeline Children’s Services is a full-service adoption and orphan care ministry based in Alabama and serving families in Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky and Mississippi. According to their website, Lifeline charges $26,300 in agency fees, which cover application, home study, program and placement fees. Additional costs include background checks, medical exams, conference and travel fees and legal expenses.
Adoptions from the Heart works with clients across the United States and is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Virginia and Connecticut. For the required application process, educational course, program and placement fees and basic home study, agency fees are around $30,550. Additional home study costs, post-placement services, ICPC fees, finalization fees, travel costs, legal fees and medical expenses may be required and are variable by state. In addition, the agency charges an hourly rate for pre-placement meetings. All fees are nonrefundable.
The Independent Adoption Center is an open adoption agency facilitating adoptions in 49 states and is fully licensed in California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, New York, North Carolina, and Texas. All fees are one-time fees and cover all activities and services until the child is adopted. In addition to the $250 application fee, families pay a one-time agency fee. Fees are on a sliding scale and vary based on the adoptive family’s state:
- CA, CT, FL, GA, IN, NC, NY, TX: $13,884–$27,144
- All other states: $11,804–$25,065 + home study fee (varies; completed in your home state)
These fees do not include additional expenses such as the home study and post-placement services, adoption letter, client networking expenses, medical and pregnancy-related expenses, travel, ICPC fees or legal expenses.
Adoption & Beyond is a licensed child placing agency in the states of Kansas and Missouri. Their domestic agency adoption program involves $17,000 in agency fees, plus an application for services ($200), home study costs ($1,200 plus updates and addendums), attorney expenses (approximately $5,000), medical expenses ($0–$10,000), and pregnancy-related living expenses ($0–$5,000).
A Family in Bloom is a Colorado adoption agency licensed to perform all types of domestic adoptions. Adoption fees total $4,100–$5,400 and include application fees, home study fees, addendums, required training, post-placement services and finalization. Additional administrative fees range from $2,000–$11,500. Birth parent expenses, background checks, court fees, ICPC fees, notarization and certification costs are not included.
The Cradle is the only adoption agency in the country with an on-site nursery. They are licensed in Illinois and Indiana. Agency fees are $38,900 and home study fees are $4,000.
Hillside is a full-service, New York state authorized adoption program specializing in domestic infant adoption. Their agency fees of $16,500 cover pre-placement services, including the home study, birth parent and placement services, post-placement support and finalization. Additional application fees and birth parent expenses are required. All fees are nonrefundable.
The Barker Adoption Foundation is a nonprofit adoption agency licensed in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia. Agency fees are on a sliding scale based on income and range from $17,000 to $33,000, plus an additional $1,405 for the application and adoptive parent training. Medical, cradle care and legal expenses range from $2,000–$6,000. Additional costs include the home study ($1,500), home study updates, finalization, state-required reports and ICPC costs.
The Adoption Program at The Home for Little Wanderers is a full-service adoption program placing infants, international and foster care adoptions. Required agency fees are $13,700–$20,200 and cover the application fee, home study fee, pre-placement coordination, and placement services. Not included in these costs are living expenses, medical expenses, transportation, legal services, counseling and support, and post-placement services.
Children of All Nations is a division of Great Wall China Adoption offering a domestic infant adoption program. Their website quotes $24,450 for application, agency and home study fees as well as birth mother expenses and legal fees. Additional fees are charged for post-placement visits.
To get a full understanding of all agency fees, total adoption costs and the services covered, be sure to contact multiple adoption professionals.