There are so many different ways to have a family, and it is totally worth it, but it is definitely an endeavor that requires budgeting. Giving birth in a hospital is covered by health insurance, if you have it, but it still may require close to $3,000 out of pocket. Working with a surrogate or assisted reproductive technology, such as IVF, averages about $12,400 per cycle without financial assistance (and multiple cycles are often necessary for pregnancy).
Another family-building option is adoption—and there are multiple routes you can take within adoption, including a public adoption, a private agency adoption, or an independent adoption. This is a major life change and involves some careful planning and budgeting in advance.
So, how much does adoption cost in the U.S., on average?
We spoke to experts on the adoption process to get more information on the general cost of each type of adoption, and some tips on how to budget for the expense of adoption.
Some adoptions arise from foster care, when foster parents decide to become adoptive parents. These often happen through a child welfare agency, and some of the steps involve background checks on foster or adoptive parents, a visit from a case worker, and home studies to make sure the parent or parents are qualified to adopt, explains Deb Guston, J.D., Adoption Director at the Academy of Adoption and Assisted Reproduction Attorneys. Each step of the process has a cost, but the state covers these expenses in a public adoption in the U.S. “If the child is placed with them, even pre-adoptive, they are entitled to some financial support from the state,” Guston says.
Private agency adoption
Private agency adoptions are typically the highest in cost; they often range from $30,000 to $60,000 when all is said and done, says Nicole Berckefeldt, Clinical Education and Adoption Coach at Progyny, a fertility benefits and insurance company.
The range might be due to the fact that some adoption agencies are for-profit and others are non-profits in certain states, so those agencies can help families offset the costs via fundraising for the agency, Guston explains. Here’s what some of those fees go toward: an initial client fee that adds you to their list of available parents and a home study visit. You’re charged most of the fees after the agency makes a match between you and a child. If the match falls through, you likely will not be charged as steep a fee, according to Guston.
Another option, outside of an agency, is to do an independent adoption. Essentially, all elements are paid for a la carte; it can cost anywhere from $25,000 to $45,000, estimates Berckefeldt. It tends to give the adoptive family more control of the process than in a private agency or public adoption, but it may end up being just as expensive as a private agency adoption, adds Guston.
The independent adoption still requires many of the same steps, including a background check and a home study through an agency, which can range from $1,000 to $4,000, according to Guston (the cost can vary from state to state). You may also have to pay legal fees. “People looking independently often hire a lawyer to help coach them through the process. Some lawyers charge a flat fee under agreement or others are paid hourly,” says Guston.
Other additional costs are added when you choose an independent adoption. Some of these are annual fees to host potential adoptive parents’ profiles on websites for birth parents to browse; prospective adoptive parents may also use videos and photos on the site, or print photo books for the birth parents, which add to the cost, says Guston. Independent adoptions additionally tend to involve support for the birthing parent’s medical care once a match is made. “Costs to an adoptive family could be a couple hundred dollars if someone delivers tomorrow, or thousands of dollars if they are only halfway through the pregnancy,” says Guston.
How to budget for adoption
It’s important to know about some unexpected costs associated with adoption when you’re working on a budget for your adoption journey. This can include travel costs if the parents are adopting from another state. Private adoptions also involve a visit from an agent after the adoption takes place. “The post-placement visit (where a representative visits the home of the new family to confirm the child is safe and supported) can cost anywhere from $500 to $2000,” says Berckefeldt. This is not part of an independent adoption, but medical bills might be more of a factor in those cases.
Here are some tips on budgeting for adoption you should be aware of:
See if your employer offers benefits.
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Services like Progyny support parents who are choosing a private, public (especially a second parent or stepparent adoption), or independent adoption journey, says Berckefeldt. If your company doesn’t have fertility or family planning benefits, it’s worth having a conversation with the HR department and advocating for this support. “It can be an intimidating process, but in reality, 64% of employers that offer a fertility or family building benefit do so because an employee asked for it,” says Berckefeldt.
Look into grants.
Some foundations give small grants for adoption that you can apply for to offset the costs in some way, advises Guston. You can also check out www.helpusadopt.org and www.fundyouradoption.org for additional financial assistance, according to Berckefeldt.
Utilize the federal adoption tax credit.
When you fill out your federal income tax paperwork from the year that you finalize your adoption, you can claim an adoption tax credit. It is delayed, in that you can only claim it after the adoption process is finished, and you can only claim the credit up to the amount of federal taxes you would have owed that year, but you can plan for that extra financial support after the adoption, Guston says.
Mara Santilli is a journalist reporting on health and wellness and how social and political systems influence the well-being of certain groups, including but not limited to Black and brown communities, women, and the LGBTQ+ community. Her editorial work has appeared in publications such as Shape, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health, InStyle, Glamour, and more. Outside of reading and writing, she enjoys traveling (especially to Italy), singing, dancing, musical theatre, and playing guitar and piano.