How Do Celebrity Adoptions Work? A Peek Inside…

Do they get special treatment? How do they adopt so quickly?

Jennifer Mellon June 11, 2017
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Madonna’s recent adoption of four-year-old twin girls from Malawi has once again brought the issue of celebrity adoptions into the spotlight. As intercountry adoptions continue to steady decline since the peak in 2004, prospective adoptive parents have grown impatient by the wait times which can extend up to almost 8 years for some countries. This decline in adoptions and growing wait times lead to understandable questions regarding celebrity adoptions and their ability to seemingly bring children into their home without any wait or known obstacle.

Over just the past five years, many stars including Cate Blanchett, Jillian Michaels, Denise Richards, Kristin Davis, Hoda Kotb, Charlize Theron, Viola Davis to name a few have adopted domestically and internationally. Every time a celebrity magazine features the beautiful new baby photos and story of the seemingly quick adoption process questions arise. How did they adopt so quickly? Did they receive special treatment due to their celebrity status or wealth? Did they skirt laws or regulations in the country of origin? Although all fair and understable inquiries, the answers may not be as salacious or unscrupulous as originally thought.

Wealth versus Fame

Forming your family through adoption can be expensive, whether it be through a private domestic or intercountry adoption. In a 2012 interview with Yahoo, Adam Pertman, the author of Adoption Nation and Founder of National Center on Adoption and Permanency, shared:

“Adoption outside of foster care, particularly so for infant adoptions and international adoptions, has come to be quite expensive and that locks a lot of people out. Does power, influence, money make a difference? Yeah, it does in every realm that we’re aware of, but a wealthy surgeon probably gets the same sort of treatment as a wealthy movie star, just that nobody’s following the surgeon around with cameras.” 

Often the process of adopting privately in the United States can take a few years. Celebrities with the financial means to pay for an expensive adoption attorney who is connected to individuals and agencies speeds up the process of finding an expectant mother who is making an adoption plan for their baby. The Child Welfare Information Gateway’s November 2016 report on average adoption expenses shows that the cost of a private domestic adoption can range from $20,000 to $45,000 with an adoption agency, $15,000 to $40,000 for completing an independent adoption with an adoption attorney (this does not include advertising costs–which can exponentially increase this cost based on budget for advertising where allowed) and $20,000 to $50,000 for an intercountry adoption.

Hague Convention

The Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (Convention) is an international agreement to safeguard intercountry adoptions. The convention entered into force with the United States on April 1, 2008.  Intercountry adoptions that are completed by United States citizens with children from countries party to the Convention receive greater protections than those who complete adoptions to countries not party to the Convention. The adoptions are completed in a similar fashion, but various safeguards may not be in place.

For example, Malawi is not party to the Hague Convention and various financial incentives to the country or orphanage, etc. may help speed up the process of being matched with a child.  “Cult of Celebrity” author Cooper Lawrence, “cites Madonna’s adoption of David Banda from Malawi as an example of wealth (but perhaps not celebrity) making things easier. ‘If you remember, [Madonna] had trouble adopting David from Malawi until she started throwing cash into it. Most of us can’t do that. Both Madonna and Angelina Jolie have the multi-millions of dollars that are needed in order to improve conditions for children still in those countries, such as funding orphanages directly.’” Obviously there is much controversy regarding celebrities skirting requirements (like Malawi’s requirement for prospective adoptive parents to reside in the country for 18 months). There is also a fear that celebrity parents visit an orphanage and choose a child to bring home with them, which also seemed to be the case based on reports of Madonna’s most recent adoption of her twin daughters from Malawi.

The Positives

Although there is controversy surrounding celebrity adoptions, there is also a lot of good to be gained by their adoptions. It should be a viable option for any safe, loving parent looking to form their family through adoption. Celebrities who adopt bring awareness to the millions of children who live outside of the protection of a forever family. Even when controversial those adoptions also bring attention to the need for safe, transparent adoptions of true orphans through ethical processes.

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Jennifer Mellon

Jennifer Mellon has worked in the child welfare field for more than a decade, serving in varying capacities as the Executive Director and Chief Development Officer of Joint Council on International Children's Services (JCICS) and the Corporate Communications Program Manager for the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI). Jennifer has served on the Board of the Campagna Center, which provides critical educational services to children and families in the DC Metro Area and on the Development Committee for the National Council for Adoption. She is the mom of three children and resides in Alexandria, Virginia.


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