How Much Does it Cost to Adopt a Child in the U.S.?

Having children is an expensive prospect.

A recent USDA study calculated that it will cost new parents $235,000 to raise children from birth to age 18—and that figure does not include college costs.

Unfortunately, that number will be even higher for those who become parents through adoption. Prospective parents may realize that there is a cost associated with adopting a child, but it may shock them to discover just how much they will need to have budgeted before they are able to bring their new family member home.

In honor of National Adoption Month, here is a break down of the costs associated with adopting a child:

Prospective parents may realize that there is a cost associated with adopting a child, but it may shock them to discover just how much they will need to have budgeted. Here is a break down of the costs associated with adopting a child.

Three Types of Adoption

According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, there are three ways to bring an adopted child home: public agency adoption, which generally works to place foster children into forever homes, private adoption, and inter-country adoption. Each of these adoption methods have their own particular costs, although there are some costs you can expect to pay no matter what route you take to adoption. Those universal adoption costs include home study expenses and legal fees.

Home Study Expenses

All prospective parents must go through a home evaluation or study before they can be put on the waiting list for a child. These home studies help the adoption facilitator or social worker to determine if the prospective parents are qualified to take a child into their home. Though completely necessary, this can be a frustrating process for adoptive parents—and an expensive one.

Home studies can cost parents between $1000 and $3000 for private and inter-country adoption. If you are adopting through a public agency, the home study fee can be lower—around $500—or waived, since public agencies are generally trying to find homes for older foster children or kids with special needs.

Some private and inter-country adoption agencies will include the cost of the home study in the overall fees for the adoption.

Legal Fees

Nearly all adoptions must be finalized in court, and inter-country adoptions can have some legal requirements on the foreign end as well. While some jurisdictions in America will allow adoptions to be finalized without an attorney, most adoptive parents will have to hire a lawyer for their legal needs. The Child Welfare Information Gateway estimates legal fees will cost between $500 and $6000:

“The cost for court document preparation can range from $500 to $2,000, while the cost for representing adoptive parents in an uncontested adoption can range from $2,500 to $6,000.”

However, those parents who are adopting foster kids through public agencies will usually find that their state makes cost allowances for their legal fees. These cost allowances should cover most or all of their attorney fees.

Public Agency Adoption Costs

These adoption agencies are usually working to place foster children, older children, or children with special needs, although some infants do get adopted through public agencies. Since these agencies are working to find the best home for children who may be more difficult to find parents for, the costs associated with this type of adoption tend to be low or waived.

Public agencies do not want to put any obstacles in the way of these children finding homes.

However, there are still costs associated with this type of adoption, including travel expenses and lawyer’s fees. Altogether, parents adopting through a public agency can expect to spend $2500 or less, including the home study expense and legal fees.

Private Adoption Costs

Adoption CostsThere are two ways to go through a private adoption: through a private agency or independently.

If you use a private agency to adopt, you can expect that the agency will charge a fee of anywhere from about $5,000 to $40,000, which will cover the costs of the home study, counseling for the birth parent, adoptive parent training, and social work services.

Private agencies will sometimes offer a sliding scale of fees, dependent on the adoptive parents’ income.

Independent adoption is when adoptive parents locate a birth parent on their own and use an adoption lawyer to facilitate all of the necessary paperwork. Costs for an independent private adoption can include everything from advertising (to find a birth parent) to allowable medical expenses for the birth mother to legal fees.

The laws of your state may prohibit or cap some of these expenses, as laws differ from state to state. Independent adoptions can cost between $8,000 and $40,000, although the average cost is between $10,000 and $15,000.

Independent adoption costs can fluctuate much more than those through a private agency, and adoptive parents may not have their costs reimbursed in the case of a birth mother changing her mind.

Inter-Country Adoption Costs

Adopting a child from another country adds more complexity to the paperwork you need to do in order to bring your child home. International adoption agencies generally charge fees of approximately $15,000 to $30,000, although many international agencies also offer sliding fee scales.

Related podcast: “I started a freelance photography business to help fund my international adoption.”

The costs of inter-country adoptions can include immigration processing and court costs, a required donation to the foreign orphanage, parent travel expenses, translation fees, foreign legal fees, foreign agency fees, passport fees, and sometimes medical and foster care of the child.

The Bottom Line on the Costs to Adopt a Child in the U.S.

There are several programs available for adoptive parents to help defray these costs, but any parent looking into adoption should expect to write some fairly big checks before the adoption process is complete. If you want to get advice from a lawyer right now about adoption, try Just Answer. Their experts are available 24/7.

It’s a frustrating fact of life that adoption is expensive. But every parent I know would say that holding their child for the first time was a priceless experience and money well spent.

Photo Credit: International Social Services/National Archives, College Park, MD

About Emily Guy Birken

Emily Guy Birken is an award-winning writer, author, money coach, and retirement expert. Her four books include The Five Years Before You Retire, Choose Your Retirement, Making Social Security Work For You, and End Financial Stress Now.


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  1. True that adoption is not inexpensive. My wife and I adopted our four out of foster care with only $1,200 fees for all 4. We had 2 boys as guardians come to our home in their teens. We’re raising our granddaughter which we did not count on doing … as increasing numbers of grandparents are doing these days.There’s been a large cost of time as well as materials, using a business term.
    Prospective adoptive families should indeed consider the financial angle but also they may be the only chance that child has at a family life. That’s why churches and community organizations should respond to those who want to adopt children and find ways they can help. This is especially true for special needs children. For children who are not adopted, the state ends up paying through group homes. But the work that children truly need done is accomplished in the family setting.