The adoption process can be overwhelming. There are so many options and the process can look vastly different depending on what type of adoption you pursue. One of the first questions people ask is, “How much does adoption cost?” which is soon followed by, “Why does adoption cost so much?” This question does not have a clear answer, especially when you search the internet. I think that is why it is often the first question people ask other individuals. Similar to the variety of different types of adoption, the cost can vary just as much. Except for foster care, I have never heard of adoptive families being pleasantly surprised by the cost. So why does adoption cost so much?

Home Study

One of the first official processes you will need to pay for is a home study. Home studies are not necessarily cheap, but they are one of the smaller fee categories in the adoption process. Depending on what type of adoption you are pursuing, you will want to discuss the home study with the agency. Some agencies include this fee and process in their packages. If you are working with an attorney or someone else, you may need to find someone independently to complete the home study. Regardless of which way you go, you will want to confirm that who you use for the home study will be accepted with the agency or attorney or if having to repeat or amend the home study will be an additional expense.

Matching and Referral Services

A larger fee associated with the cost of adoption is a matching or referral fee. This cost could be minimal or non-existent if you are adopting a relative or from a friend. Otherwise, this is a fee that can vary greatly. In some cases, this fee can be paid more than once by helping the birth family create a profile and helping the adoptive family create a profile. Think of this as a marketing or advertising fee. Some of these are simple databases and list out situations for adoptive families to pursue. Others are more advanced and have a series of questionnaires for the birth families and adoptive families to see how they match up with preferences, before even considering if there is any further potential for the match process to continue.

This is also a tight niche so the costs cannot typically be kept low if this a full-time career for some. This can include anything in the process from building a website, hosting the website, maintaining a website, advertising, and marketing to find expectant mothers, advertising and marketing for adoptive families, costs for databases, application fees, meeting with the birth mother or family, meeting with and interviewing the adoptive family, reviewing the home study, drug tests, travel, and meal expenses, etc.

In some cases, these expenses are paid upfront and have no limit on how many birth situations you can apply for. Others are based on a situational basis. These may require you to pay an application fee for each situation you are interested in and want to be considered for instead of having an upfront cost. In others, you may not pay this fee until later. Other companies have a fee to be put into their database of the listserve, but then they have a match fee once a match is made. Then some companies are truly a referral service and do not complete and maintain a database but work with a range of attorneys and agencies that do most of the marketing. Many of these require you to pay them a fee and then there is more of a marketing fee or such with the actual agency or attorney who is working directly with the birth family. At first glance, this seems like a big turn-off. However, many of these cost less at the beginning and only require a larger fee once a match is made. That means the financial risk is kept low and you may be able to apply for several situations through several avenues at the same time while paying less than a larger agency requires upfront.

Adoption Living or Birth Mother Expenses

Birth mother expenses can vary from each mother and state. These expenses include any cost while she is pregnant, although some states allow for additional funds immediately following the birth. This would be similar to having paid maternity leave from a job. These expenses may include the following:

 – Rent or mortgage

– Utilities

– Telephone bill

– New phone

– Moving expenses

– Transportation to and from medical appointments and any meetings related to the adoption process

– Counseling

– Groceries

– Maternity clothes

The cost of living varies across the nation (and globe) so it makes sense that the expectation of financial responsibilities to the birth mother would also vary. Some states place a maximum amount that can be paid to the expectant family as a whole or within sub-categories. These expenses should be considered necessities and not allowing them to live lavishly.

It should be noted that these expenses should never be paid directly to a birth mother or family! All of these costs should always go through your attorney or agency. It is also common practice for many of these fees to be paid directly to the provider and never touch the hand of the birth mother. Be sure to discuss a payment plan with your agency or attorney ahead of time. Many pay the additional costs with gift cards and not cash. They would also help the birth family by only dispersing necessary amounts each month or on an as-needed basis. If you have any concerns about the fees, be sure to discuss them with your adoption professional. Keep in mind that these are women who have recognized that there is someone who can better care for a new baby than they can, and this may be due to a financial reason. They should be respected and supported for choosing this life for their child.

Medical Expenses

Any medical expenses accrued because of pregnancy should be expected to be paid by the adoptive family. Many of these expenses may be covered by insurance or Medicaid but any additional charges, including co-pays, the adoptive family’s responsibility. Of course, once the child is born, you will also be responsible for any medical expenses the child accrues. You need to contact your health insurance provider to discuss options for adding this child to your policy. Keep in mind this child will be under your care before the adoption is finalized. Check with your provider to see if he or she can be added to your policy at the time of birth or placement. Also, ask for what documents they will need. The birth mother’s expenses may be paid in advance or as needed. Again, these expenses can vary based on the health of the pregnancy and the needs of the birth mother and child.

Agency and Attorney Fees

These are typically required to pay right away since they start working for you right away. In some cases, the amount you pay is refundable in whole or in part if an adoption falls through. In other instances, these fees are non-refundable, although some will let you roll it over into another situation if the birth family changes their mind.

If you have ever worked with an attorney, you know that any phone call, email, or minute that he or she puts into a case is billed. Attorneys bill at an hourly rate, and it is not cheap. One phone call can truly cost you hundreds of dollars! If you exceed the amount of the deposit or retainer paid upfront, you will be expected to pay additional funds to cover all the charges. Some agencies work the same way and will bill based on the work provided. Other agencies will charge you a total sum and you do not have to worry about billable hours throughout the process. Regardless of who you work with, this is typically one of the most expensive items to budget for.

Legal Fees

These are additional fees associated with the courts and not directly related to an attorney. These fees are pretty set for every situation, but they may vary based on state, county, court, etc. Included in this would be filing fees, court reporters, birth certificates, and putative father registries. Even though this does not include a lot of information, this can still quickly add up to a couple of thousand dollars.

Travel Expenses

This item will vary greatly and may be very little or cost you thousands of dollars. If your adoption is taking place close to home, this expense would be minimal. The farther away from home you are adopting, the more expensive travel arrangements will cost. Not only do you need to account for transportation to and from the location of birth, but if you are adopting out of state or country, you will be expected to stay for a few days, weeks, or months! You will need to follow the requirements and budget for any daily expenses for you and your family.


ICPC stands for Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children. In short, this helps protect children (and families) in the adoption process when moving across state lines. You can read a lot more about what it is and why we have it in the United States here. This is usually a couple of thousand dollars and cannot be avoided if you are adopting from another state. If you are working with a nationwide agency or attorney from another state, you should expect to pay this fee. There would be similar fees and expenses if you were adopting outside of the United States of America and some are paid to the country of origin.

Post-Placement Home Study

Once you have a child placed in your home, you will need to undergo another series of home study visits, These are meant to check in on your family and the child. They look for safety, physically and emotionally, and they look to confirm that everything is going well during this transition. Each state and agency will have different requirements. But once again, this is an added expense that is necessary for the adoption process.

Miscellaneous Expenses

There are a lot of other expenses that are necessary for adopting. Some of these make it on a budget sheet for adoption agencies, but others do not. Most of these are necessary, and although they may not seem very expensive at first glance, the dollars add up very quickly.

 – Preparing your home – this can be anything from smoke detectors, remodeling, safety pool fences, security systems, or nursery furniture.

 – Background Checks – you will more than likely be expected to complete local and national background checks. These usually require payment on-site and are not included in the home study cost.

 – Physicals – physicals are part of the home study process and at least the adoptive parents would be expected to have a medical physical completed recently. It may also be necessary (or suggested) to have other members of the family complete one.

 – Counseling – counseling is a great investment for the entire family. You should expect to pay for counseling for the birth mother or family, but it would also be wise to offer to your family and especially your adopted child as needed.

 – Education – some agencies provide education and seminars to help you prepare for the adoption process. Whether or not this is included in the fee, it is a great place to spend your money and help alleviate surprises along the way. Most attorneys do not offer this, but you can find other avenues for educating yourself and your family. Do not underestimate the power of books, podcasts, and other easily accessible avenues too. You may also want to look for opportunities that would benefit you and your child after placement. One example of this is a hair care workshop available for transracial families and learning how to care for and style hair of other ethnicities. This is especially important for adopting black girls.

 – Profile Books – most people you will work with for matching will require at least one profile book, although they may ask for more. You will be expected to design and purchase these on your own. The cost can add up, but you can look for coupons.

 – Eating out for meetings – it is common to meet with the birth mother or family over a meal. Although it is not mandatory, it is courteous to pay for the birth mother or family’s meal and possibly the attorney or social worker joining you. We typically always meet with our children’s birth family over a meal, even as they grow older, and we always offer to pay.

The expenses can add up quickly. Why does adoption cost so much? There is not one big line item, but attorney fees can probably add up the quickest. Whether you are adopting or have friends that are, it’s easy to ask, “Why does adoption cost so much?” Adoption is a process and you need to invest both time and money into bringing a child home. The expenses will not stop once they are in your arms, in fact, it will only be the beginning. But having this child as part of your family, you will not be worrying about the question, “Why does adoption cost so much?” Instead, you will be learning how to love your child more.




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