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How much does the average adoption cost? The answer might surprise you

Why is adoption so expensive? Here's what it can cost.

Discussing finances can be a little uncomfortable in general. Talking about costs in relation to adding a child to your family can feel completely taboo.

But discussing finances, and finding out the average adoption costs in your area, is essential.

Leah Atkins, an interior designer in Lawrenceville, Georgia, had several serious health conditions that caused her and her husband to turn to adoption when they wanted to grow their family.

The couple was astounded by the expense of the process. “We knew that it wasn’t cheap, but we had no idea just how expensive it truly was,” she said, citing legal fees as the most expensive percentage of the total cost for their two adoptions.

Average adoption costs can vary greatly based on the type of adoption and circumstances around the adoption. If you are considering adopting a child, these are some of the costs you can expect so that you can begin planning for your family’s future. 

The three types of adoption

“Researching the various types of adoption is an important part of beginning the adoption journey,” said Rita L. Soronen, president and CEO of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.

There are three routes to adopting a child:

  • Domestic adoption: Adopting an infant in the United States
  • International adoption: Adopting a child from another country
  • Foster-to-adopt: Adopting a child from the foster care system

“The costs of each kind of adoption differ widely. It is important to know that there are also many options for financial assistance for families hoping to adopt and that understanding these options can go a long way toward alleviating the worry about cost,” said Soronen.

Cost of a domestic adoption

The average cost of adopting a child in the United States is between $20,000 and $45,000, says the Child Welfare Information Gateway from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This price can cover legal fees, home studies, travel and lodging, court fees, and medical and living expenses for the birth parent.

Soronen said it’s important to get clarity from the adoption agency or the attorney involved on specific costs prior to making a commitment.

Parents can expect a private adoption agency to be more expensive. However, some agencies will offer a sliding scale based on the adoptive parents’ income. 

For an independent domestic adoption, parents find the birth mother without an agency and use an adoption lawyer to facilitate all of the legal aspects and paperwork. Costs can range from $15,000 to $40,000, according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway.

Adoption costs by state may differ since adoption laws vary state to state. 

Cost of an international adoption

Depending on the country of adoption, international adoption costs will vary greatly. Parents should plan to pay between $20,000 and $50,000 for an international adoption, according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway. 

Be sure to budget for multiple trips to the country before and during the adoption process and add the extra expenses of travel and hotel costs. 

Cost of adoption through foster care

Morgan Lampp and her wife, Mara Hill, dreamed of adopting a baby and were surprised to learn that in their home state of Florida, foster care adoption costs were extremely low.

“Through our adoption classes it was very clear that there would be little to nothing out of pocket with our adoption,” says Lampp. “The classes, home study, fingerprints and background checks — all covered. Even our lawyer costs for adoption were covered in full.” 

While every state has different rules and fees associated with adoption through foster care and every case is different, for this couple, the process moved very quickly. “Last year we had our home study completed and within a month we were matched with our baby, Kai. She was officially adopted by us at the end of May,” said Hill.

According to Soronen, here’s what prospective parents need to know about adoption through foster care:

  • Adoption from foster care entails working with the public child welfare system and their contract agencies. 
  • Since the agency holds custody until they are adopted, most of the fees are the responsibility of the public system. 
  • There are some costs that can occur, including home studies or other out of pocket fees, but these are typically reimbursable and range from $0 to $3,000. 
  • Children adopted from foster care often qualify for state or federal subsidies that follow the child through age 18, or in some circumstances until age 21. 
  • Many states also offer educational vouchers for youth adopted from foster care. This can include college or trade schools.

New parents Lampp and Hill said they hope adoption through foster care is an avenue that more parents will explore. “We encourage anyone interested in adopting because these children need a safe and loving environment, and a forever family. If money is something stopping you, know that this may be a route for you.”

How to pay adoption costs

While the cost of adoption can be expensive, there are a variety of ways to save and pay for adoption, including:

Even with careful planning, there may be additional fees and expenses that prospective parents should anticipate during the adoption process. “Depending on the circumstance and age of a child when adopted, there may be a need for post-adoption medical or mental health assistance,” said Soronen.  

There may also be legal fees to consider. “Since adoption is a legal exchange, families may want to consider engaging an attorney, even if one is not required, to assure that all aspects of the adoption are handled appropriately.”

The bottom line

“The adoption journey is one that, in the end, joyfully creates or expands a family and provides a child a permanent and loving home,” says Soronen. “Although costs can be a challenging part of that journey, there are multiple options and supports available.”