It is no secret that beginning your adoption journey can be daunting. Even once you settle on whether private domestic adoption, international adoption, or adoption from foster care is right for you and your family, there are still several other factors to consider. How long will the process take? How will you know if a match is a good fit for your family? And one of the top questions: How much will the adoption cost? A quick search of this last question can turn up a span of numbers ranging from $0 to $50,000. The reason for such a wide variety of costs is because different types of adoption cost more (or less) than others. Families who choose to adopt from foster care normally receive reimbursement for most of the costs incurred, whereas families adopting internationally may face higher costs due to travel and country fees. For families pursuing a private adoption, the costs vary because of the many aspects involved. A private adoption is an adoption wherein prospective adoptive parents adopt a child whom they already know or adopt the child of a prospective birth mother whom the prospective adoptive parents have previously identified. Private adoption is the most common form of domestic adoption in the United States. Overall, private adoption cost depends on many considerations such as application and home study fees, choosing agency versus independent adoption, and legal and advertising fees. Here is everything you need to know about what to expect to pay (and budget) for a private adoption.

Application

The first fee families can expect to pay is a simple application fee to an adoption agency. Whether a family chooses to adopt through an agency or to adopt independently, all families must have a valid and approved home study to adopt a child within the United States. All states require a family’s home study to be conducted by a state-licensed social worker, and typically these social workers are affiliated with an adoption agency. At the beginning of the process, a family will fill out an application to determine their basic eligibility to adopt. If approved, the family will then move on to the home study process. Application fees vary between agencies but typically cost between $500-$700. Because application fees are not inexpensive, if a family chooses to pursue an agency adoption, it is important to do some research and ask the right questions before selecting an agency. Most families who choose to adopt with an agency will use the same agency from home study through matching, placement, and post-placement.

Home Study

Following approval of their application, families will begin the home study process. The purpose of a home study is to provide an idea of what life with the prospective adoptive parents will be like for the adoptive child. During the course of the home study, a state-licensed social worker will meet with the family in person, typically three times, and conduct a series of interviews. The interviews will focus on the family’s motivation to adopt, what type of child they are open to parenting, their philosophies about parenting and discipline, and what day-to-day life will look like for an adoptive child in their home. In addition to in-person meetings, the prospective adoptive parents will be asked to conduct and write a self-study as well as to provide a series of documents. The documents will include employment letters, financial letters (verifying the family’s income and assets), personal reference letters, and letters from the family’s physicians. All of these documents must be notarized. All family members over the age of 18 must complete fingerprinting, a child abuse/neglect clearance, and a background check. The fees for fingerprinting and background checks run between $60-$75 per person. Many adoption agencies offer a sliding scale based on income, so the overall private adoption cost of a home study is between $2,000-$4,000. A home study is valid for one year from the time it is completed. If a home study update is necessary (in the event placement of the child does not take place within the year) then a home study update will be required. Home study updates run between $500-$1,000.

At the same time a family is completing their home study, they will be required to complete a series of preadoption education training hours. Most agencies offer a preadoption class, which costs around $500, for a total of 8-10 training hours. Since at least 20 preadoption education training hours are required by most states, families will need to complete some online education courses. These courses run between $100-$200 per person.

Lastly, all families will be required to complete post-placement visits after the adoptive child is placed with them. The completion of post-placement visits is a requirement for the finalization of the adoption. Because this takes at least six months to complete, agencies ask for both a deposit and the post-placement reporting fee in advance. Post-placement reporting runs between $1,500-$2,000 with an additional $1,000 deposit. The agency will return the deposit once all post-placement reports have been completed.

The private adoption cost of a home study thus ranges between $4,500-$7,500 for all preadoption education, home study requirements, and post-placement reporting.

Agency Adoption Costs

Families who choose to work with an agency on their adoption will find that most agencies offer a full-service approach. Whereas independent adoption can be more like an à la carte menu, agency adoption tends to be more all-inclusive. Following the completion and approval of their home study, an agency will work with the family to find the right adoption opportunity. This may include assisting a family to create their adoption profile, advertising to prospective birth mothers, and networking. Many agencies, and national adoption agencies in particular, have online family profiles and may charge families for higher visibility on their sites. Additionally, families may choose to employ photographers and videographers to design their profile, which will incur more costs. Private adoption programs at an agency will run between $10,000-$30,000 with the average private adoption cost for an agency run programming coming in at $18,000. This cost includes securing an adoption opportunity, counseling services for the prospective birth mother, developing terms of the adoption, including plans for the day of the child’s birth, and attorney fees for the initial court process. Because agencies vary in the level of service they provide, when selecting an agency, it is important to decide what feels right for your family. Some families will want more of a hands-on approach while others may feel more comfortable navigating their adoption journey more autonomously.

In addition to program fees, families can expect to pay legal fees for finalizing their adoption. Though the agency fee will include legal fees for terminating the birth parents’ rights and court reporting services, once post-placement reporting requirements have been met, the adoptive parents will file a petition to finalize the adoption in their state of residency (which may be different than the child’s birth state). The average cost to finalize an adoption is $4,500.

Independent Adoption Costs

There are many reasons a family may choose to adopt independently. Independent adoption is when prospective adoptive parents connect with a prospective birth mother without the aid of an agency. For many, independent adoption offers a way to connect with the prospective birth mother in a way that many agency-based adoptions do not provide. Most states allow for independent adoption, but before choosing this path, families should check with their state-licensed social worker to ensure they are legally compliant. Even when independent adoption is legally viable, states vary in regard to their advertising laws. In many states, it is illegal for a prospective adoptive parent to advertise directly to a prospective birth mother. For those states which do not allow advertising by prospective adoptive parents, an adoption consultant or an adoption attorney may be used in this role. Adoption consultants typically cost around $2,000.

Unlike the one-stop shop of adoption agencies, independent adoption may require more of a marketing budget. Typically families spend between $1,000-$5,000 on advertising costs, in addition to the $2,000 for an adoption consultant. Costs vary depending on how much a prospective adoptive family wishes to do. For some, a simple profile book suffices where others may create websites and more of an online presence.

Once matched with a birth mother, families adopting independently will need to rely on an adoption attorney to navigate the terms of the adoption. Legal fees run between $7,000-$15,000 to terminate parental rights, file a petition with the court, process court documents, and finalize the adoption. All legal fees are processed through a retainer, so families can expect to pay this fee incrementally. This is another benefit of independent adoption since many agencies require their program fees upfront.

Birth Mother Expenses

Regardless of what type of adoption they choose, all prospective adoptive parents can expect to pay prospective birth mother expenses. These costs may include prenatal care, legal bills associated with the adoption, reasonable living expenses, transportation related to the adoption, and post-natal support, typically up to six weeks. In all states, before the adoption is finalized, these expenses will need to be submitted to the court for approval. This is to ensure that the adoption is completed in the most ethical way possible and that no monies were exchanged between the adoptive parents and the birth parents for the purposes of procuring the child. Birth mother expenses range from $4,000-$8,000. Agency adoptions skew towards the lower end and independent adoptions towards the higher. This may be due to finding independent counseling for the prospective birth mother as opposed to working through the adoption agency.

Travel 

One of the last costs for prospective adoptive families is the cost of travel. Depending on where the prospective adoptive family lives and where the prospective birth mother lives, some families find themselves traveling across the country at a moment’s notice. Like all births, though a due date is known, babies come when they are ready, so most adoption travel is booked at the last minute. Once the child is born, adoptive families will need to stay in the area until consent for the adoption is given. This may be a matter of hours, a few days, or even a week or two depending on state adoption laws. If families adopted across state lines, then they will need to wait for the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) clearance to come through before they return home. Most families spend between $2,000-$5,000 on domestic adoption travel between flights and hotel rooms.

Affording Adoption 

With private adoption cost ranging from $25,000-$45,000, affording adoption can be daunting. Thankfully there are many grants available which may award families between $500-$5,000+ in adoption aid. Some agencies may work with specific grantors, too, so be sure to inquire. Low to no-interest loans are available for adoptive families, and many families get creative with fundraisers from spaghetti dinners to t-shirt sales and more. Finally, all families should be aware of the adoption tax credit (ATC). Made permanent by Congress in 2013, the ATC allows for families to claim adoption-related expenses (everything from attorney fees and agency fees to advertising costs and travel expenses). Families adopting domestically may “claim as they go” for up to five years, or until the full credit has been used. In 2019, the ATC offers a credit of $14,080 per child. For many families, the ATC can offset almost half of all adoption-related expenses. It should be noted, however, that the ATC is not refundable, meaning that if no income tax is owed, then no credit can be claimed. The ATC is designed to offset the tax liability of adoptive families and does take into account a family’s adjusted gross income (AGI). Families with an AGI below $211,160 can claim the full credit, families with an AGI between $211,160-$251,160 can claim partial credit, and families with an AGI above $251,160 cannot claim the credit.

Private adoption cost may be expensive, but becoming a child’s forever family is priceless. And remember, not all the fees are due at once. Most fees are staggered and will be incurred over the course of a year or even two or more. With a little planning and some creative fundraising, building your family through adoption can absolutely happen.