(NerdWallet) – Bringing a child into your family is a big decision, emotionally and financially. The process can be long and cost anywhere from less than $1,000 to more than $50,000. Here’s a breakdown of the different ways you can grow your family through adoption — and how much you could expect to spend.
How much does adoption cost?
The cost of adoption depends on the type of adoption you pursue. As you consider how you might want to move forward, keep in mind there are several ways to pay for adoption, from fundraisers and grants to personal loans.
Public agency adoption
How it works: Adopting children through the public welfare system often means beginning as a foster parent. Each state has its own agency, which oversees licensing, education, placement and support for adoptive families.
What it costs: Adoption from foster care is a low-cost option for parents. Child Welfare Information Gateway, a service of the Children’s Bureau under the federal Office of the Administration for Children and Families, characterizes foster care adoption as “virtually free of cost.” The majority of foster adoptions cost less than $1,000, according to the most recent Adoptive Families magazine adoption cost survey conducted in 2016-17.
This path to adoption is inexpensive because of state and federal adoption assistance programs put in place to make it more accessible and appealing to adopt children who are in foster care. These children are often older and may have experienced trauma or have special needs.
Helpful resource: The Children’s Bureau offers a state-by-state guide to adoption assistance.
How it works: Parents can work with an adoption agency or attorney to find and adopt children in the U.S. Generally, the process of adopting a child is similar whether you work through a private agency or independently with the help of an attorney. It involves a home study, placement, counseling, training and legal documentation.
What it costs: The cost of a private adoption varies. Working with an agency, you can expect to spend between $30,000 and $60,000, according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway. It’s slightly less expensive to pursue an independent adoption, which involves working with an attorney. That process ranges in cost from $25,000 to $45,000. Private adoptions are more likely to involve newborns. That means in addition to paying for the adoption process, you would also cover the birth mother’s medical and other expenses.
How it works: This path involves working with private or public adoption agencies in countries outside the United States. The process and fees vary by country and depend on the organization you work with, which could be a government office, agency, orphanage, nonprofit or an individual like an attorney. Some aspects of the process are unique. You’ll have to work through the immigration process, including applying for passports and travel visas, and navigate foreign legal systems. The road can be long. Child Welfare Information Gateway estimates intercountry adoption can take one to five years to complete.
What it costs: On average, intercountry adoption costs $20,000 to $50,000.
Expenses that may arise when adopting a child
A home study marks the beginning of the adoption process.
During a home study, prospective parents — and their family members — are checked out to make sure they would provide a safe and loving place for a child. A home study requires you to produce documents, including financial statements, employment records and a letter from your doctor about your latest physical. You’d also undergo background checks and interviews. This evaluation phase can cost from $2,000 to $4,000, according to The Gladney Center for Adoption, an adoption agency based in Fort Worth, Texas. That price may be adjusted based on your family’s income.
This step in the process also includes education and training. Some of it may be provided by the state agency that administers the home study at a cost ranging from $300 to $600. Additional hours of training are likely required and would be done on your own through books or online courses, which can cost $100 to $200 per person.
Lastly, during the home study, you’ll agree to a post-placement reporting phase. In the United States, a social worker visits the family multiple times over a six-month period after the child has been placed in the home. Fees for post-placement reporting can range from $1,500 to $2,000.
When working with a private agency or an attorney, a major expense in the process goes to searching for and getting matched with a birth mother. Fees for a consultant and advertising may be rolled into an adoption agency’s overall fee. But if you’re pursuing an independent adoption, you’ll likely pay for these services separately and costs can range more widely, depending on how and where you want to advertise. The Gladney Center estimates consulting and advertising can cost between $3,000 and $7,000 for an independent adoption.
Birth mother expenses
People adopting a newborn will be responsible for paying the birth mother’s expenses. This can include medical bills and some living expenses, as well as counseling, legal fees and travel. The Gladney Center estimates these expenses can cost between $6,000 and $8,000 for parents pursuing a private adoption.
There are a lot of legal requirements in adoption, including terminating the rights of the birth parents, court filings, negotiating birth mother expenses and finalizing the adoption after the post-placement reporting period. An adoption agency may roll some of these expenses into its overall fee.
If you’re pursuing an independent adoption, legal fees will be the bulk of your expenses, costing between $7,000 and $15,000.
Travel costs can crop up for domestic adoptions, though they’re most significant in intercountry adoptions. Distance is a key factor in how much you’ll pay for travel. Another is time. You might be waiting days or weeks for the final legal approval to bring a child home, especially when crossing state lines or country borders.
For private domestic adoptions, you could pay up to $3,000 in travel expenses, according to the Gladney Center. (You could look at getting a travel credit card to offset some of those expenses.)
Estimates vary for intercountry adoption-related travel. The cost can depend on the country where the child is living and the organization you’re working with. In a cost estimate on its website, New Beginnings — an international adoption agency based in New York — says the adoption of a child in South Korea could include $6,000 to $9,000 in travel expenses. The Child Welfare Information Gateway advised in a September 2020 intercountry adoption guide that adoptive parents are often required to be in the child’s country to finalize the adoption. It may require multiple, extended visits.
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Raising a child
Adoption in itself can be a long and expensive process, but that’s only a precursor to the full cost of raising a child. New parents should budget for those expenses, which can top $21,000 in the first year alone.