Raising a family certainly requires financial planning, but adoption compared to giving birth often induces a different level of monetary concern. One of the biggest hurdles a person or couple faces after deciding to adopt is the cost. It’s hard to pinpoint the average cost of adoption without specifying what type of adoption it is. Generally speaking, one can expect to spend a few thousand to $40,000 dollars on adoption. Fortunately, there are resources out there that can mitigate the cost as well as optionality in the way one proceeds.

Domestic Adoptions (Agency or Private)

Domestic adoptions include those that are handled through an adoption agency or through private parties. Foster care adoptions are also considered domestic adoption, but the process and cost are quite different and will be covered in a separate section. Domestic adoption means you are adopting a child that was born in the U.S. and whose parents have voluntarily consented to relinquish their parental rights. Often, the birth parents are involved in the screening of prospective adoptive parents for their child.

The average cost of adoption for non-foster care domestic adoption ranges from $8,000- $40,000 and is organized by an adoption agency or by an independent party. An adoption agency will be part of the entire process once a decision is made to adopt while an independent adoption means the prospective parents must find the pregnant mother themselves via advertising or networking and then enlist an agency or lawyer to legally complete the process. Foster care adoptions fees differ drastically.

Independent of which type of non-foster care domestic adoption one pursues, the agency fee often is one of the largest expenses. It can either be a fixed rate, partially fixed rate, or fee for service. A fixed rate means independent of how much time the agency spends on your case, this rate will not be altered. A partially fixed rate means they will charge you a base rate but have the right to include additional charges if the case becomes complicated. A fee for service will itemize all aspects of the process that the agency is involved in and will bill you for each service based on their rate. Each agency has their own rates, so it’s best to shop around and obtain this information up front.

With such a mind-boggling amount of money in question, people want to know where is the money going? The money goes towards legal fees, home study, post and pre-placement services, training for adoptive parents, screenings of birth and prospective parents, counseling, advertising, birth plan preparation, and salaries of the agency employees. While this list may not be entirely comprehensive, it does overlap with the expenses one will see for international adoptions.

Foster Care Adoptions

Even though foster care adoptions occur domestically, the average cost of adoption through the foster care system is the least expensive way to go. There are approximately 400,00 children in the U.S. foster care system, and 100,000 children are eligible for placement and are in need of a home. Many states will cover the fees for the court-appointed lawyer, application, home study, and pre-service training. The main cost to a foster care parent is for improvements on your house and property to meet safety regulations, medical training like first aid and CPR, fingerprinting, and a physical exam. The reason states can absorb these fees is through tax collection and federal funding. Many states may even provide a subsidy, which is a monthly payment averaging about $350, to help defray the cost associated with raising a child with special needs. This subsidy is in addition to the reimbursement costs for basic needs like food, diapers, and clothing, which vary state to state.

So then why don’t more people utilize this route? One hurdle of the foster care system is that the initial placement of a foster child into your home does not guarantee adoption. Many people have a hard time coping with this uncertainty. The reasons children are placed in foster care can be wide-reaching from the parent’s financial or health challenges or the home situation may be abusive or not suitable in some other way. The goal is to reunify children with their parents if it is safe to do so, and therefore, you may be placed with a few children before even being given the option to adopt. If adopting a child from foster care is feasible because parental rights have been severed, this process takes roughly 1-1.5 years.

Despite all this, fostering a child is a wonderful way to provide stability to a vulnerable child, who needs nothing more than a loving space. There may not be an option to become a forever home with the first child placed in your home, but you certainly will leave a permanent mark in his or her heart.

International Adoptions

International adoption takes place when a child, who is a citizen of another country, is adopted by an individual or couple. You may have heard that the number of international adoptions has dropped in recent years, but that does not mean it is impossible to go this route. The most popular countries children are adopted from include China, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ukraine, South Korea, India, Uganda, Guatemala, Haiti, and Columbia. Each has their own guidelines for whom they will allow to adopt, so it’s essential to do your homework before setting your heart on a particular country. Also note that there are some countries that have outright banned international adoptions like Kenya, Ethiopia, and Russia—despite the large number of children who have made America their permanent home in recent years. Policies within the U.S. and overseas can change at any time, so enlisting a professional who understands all the laws is advisable.

Once you decide to adopt from overseas and have confirmed it is feasible, familiarize yourself with that culture as you most likely will have to spend some time there as the adoption proceeds. Traveling to another country can be viewed as a welcome adventure or a costly trip. This is one of the main added costs that comes along with international adoptions, which often makes the average cost of adoption higher for international cases compared to domestic ones. Aside from the travel fees for prospective parents and child, which include inter and intra-country trips, the child will need a passport and potentially more stringent medical exams and vaccinations. Fees associated with the home study, attorney’s preparation, and authentication of the documents are expenses that cannot be avoided for any adoption and are comparable to domestic adoptions. Since travel costs vary greatly depending on the time of year and destination, it is hard to provide an exact estimate for the travel, but this is something one can research on their own to understand what costs they will incur.

What Resources Are Out There to Lower the Cost?

Hearing about all the costs associated with adoption may be enough for someone to give up on the idea of forming a family this way, but rest assured there are resources out there to alleviate the financial burden. In 2017, the maximum tax credit per child was $13,570 for qualified expenses including reasonable and necessary adoption fees, court costs and attorney fees, travel expenses, and other expenses incurred for the sole purpose of the adoption. Many employers offer benefits that can be financial and/or include parental time off, which may be paid or unpaid. Other benefits from companies include adoption education or support networks. People are often not aware of these benefits until they need to look for them, so don’t be afraid to take out your employee handbook or contact your Human Resources representative for this information. Active duty military families may receive financial reimbursement for certain adoption-related expenses, including health care for the child. They may also be given time off during the adoption process or after it is finalized. Additionally, there are grants available for those who have completed their home study as it intended to ensure that the adoption finalization will not be blocked due to financial strains. State subsidies are provided to those who adopt through the foster care system as well, and this will offset the cost drastically not only during the process of placement through adoption but also once the child is placed in your home. I’ve heard of other nontraditional routes of raising money from fundraisers to crowdfunding like GoFundMe. This may not be the solution for everyone, but there are certainly options out there for all types of individuals and couples.

Now what?

Now that you have an overview of the types of adoptions and their associated costs, you can make an informed decision on how to proceed. Adoption is an emotional and life-changing decision for yourself and for the child. It’s unfortunate that financial burdens can often be a strong factor in deciding whether or not to adopt. Hopefully with enough pooled resources, you will be able to make a choice that will fill your life with more love than one could ever put a dollar amount to.