Adoptive Families, the award-winning national adoption magazine, is the leading adoption information source for families before, during, and after adoption.


“How Should Parents Budget for a Domestic Adoption?”

By Janna J. Annest, adoption law expert

Independent domestic adoptions come in all shapes and sizes, and parents may not know how much to budget—should you be thinking along the lines of a mortgage payment, or a year of college tuition?

AF’s latest cost and timing survey found domestic adoption costs range from less than $10,000 to more than $40,000, with the majority costing between $20,000 and $30,000. Most families will be able to reduce their out-of-pocket expenses by claiming the tax credit ($13,170 per domestic adoption attempt in 2010). Use this overview to plan your budget and you’ll likely find that adoption is within your means.

ADVERTISING: Independent adopters locate potential birthmothers in different ways, some of which are expensive and some of which cost nothing. Nearly all parents network informally—via e-mail, blogs, Facebook—and ask family and friends to spread the word that they’re looking to adopt.

Websites, like, post your information for about $100 per month. prepares and posts a video profile for a few hundred dollars. Traditional forms of advertising, like newspapers, can cost from $5 to more than $1,000.

HOMESTUDY: Because independent adopters do not work with an agency, they need to engage their own social worker to prepare pre- and post-placement reports. As usual, costs vary, but usually run between $750 and $3,000. If possible, talk with two or three social workers before choosing one, and do not make your choice based on a savings of $50 or $100. The homestudy process is friendly but invasive, so it is important to trust your social worker.

ATTORNEY FEES: The same applies to attorneys. Speak to several, make sure they know your state’s adoption statutes, and, if necessary, have experience with interstate adoptions.

Ask for an estimate of fees. Some lawyers charge by the hour, while others offer a flat fee. The predictability of a flat fee is appealing, but if your case turns out to be simple, you may owe more than you would have with an hourly agreement. Some lawyers offer a hybrid arrangement, handling predictable components (the finalization hearing) for a flat rate, and charging by the hour for other activities (termination of parental rights).

It is difficult to predict the legal expenses you’ll incur, since many factors will be beyond your control. For instance, all domestic adoptions require termination of both biological parents’ rights, but this isn’t always a straightforward process. (The birthfather may be unknown, or there may be multiple potential birthfathers.) Families’ attorney fees range from $5,000 to $10,000.

Additionally, some parents will pay for an attorney to represent the prospective birthmother. This practice isn’t required in all states, but it is recommended, particularly if the birthmother is a minor, lives in another state, or seems at all uncertain about her adoption plan. The cost of a few hours of an attorney’s time to go over the consent and termination paperwork with the birthmother is a good investment for all parties involved.

BIRTHMOTHER LIVING EXPENSES: Expecting moms sometimes request—and adoptive parents are usually happy to make—reasonable payments for living expenses, like maternity clothes, some medical care, food, transportation, or rent. However, because criminal statutes prohibit anything that could be construed as “baby-buying,” you’ll want to obtain a court order approving the payments before you make them.

In most cases, an attorney will negotiate the payments and will advise parents to make them directly to the birthmother’s landlord, doctor, and so on, instead of giving her cash. It is also good practice to budget for counseling, if the birthmother wishes to seek it.

Not all birthmothers request financial assistance, and costs will be minimal in a last-minute match. On the other hand, some adoptions involve substantial payments for living expenses, and these expenses are not recoverable, even if the adoption plan falls through. The average payment for living expenses is $3,400.

TRAVEL: Travel and hotel costs often accompany domestic adoptions, just as they do in international adoptions. States mandate minimum waiting periods after the birth before birthparents’ consents can be signed. And, in interstate adoptions, parents must wait for clearance before traveling home.

If you have friends or family in the area, stay with them to avoid hotel costs. Otherwise, you might contact a local church to find a host family, or negotiate a rate for a long-term stay in a hotel. On average, independent adopters spend $1,900 on travel costs.


JANNA J. ANNEST is an adoptive mom and an adoption attorney at Mills Meyers Swartling, in Seattle, Washington. You can reach her at

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