The Adoption Process: Timeline

A general overview of the adoption process: how long it takes, what you need to do at each step, and when you’ll incur expenses.

Adoption Timeline

The adoption timeline below walks you through the practical process of adopting a child, from making the decision to finalizing your new family. Click on the links in the time periods below to learn much more about each step.

Please note, the time frames given below are estimates. You may find yourself taking more or less time at each step in the adoption process, especially during your initial research and decision-making period and the wait to be matched with an expectant mother or to receive an international referral.

 Adoption Process: 1 to 3 Months

 Objective 1: Learn about adoption.


  • Join an adoptive parent support group.
  • Read adoption books and magazines.
  • Attend a pre-adoption information session hosted by a local adoption agency or a conference.

Financial Implications: Minimal

 Objective 2: Make preliminary decision about type of adoption.


Financial Implications: Understand financial implications of type of adoption. See adoption cost breakdowns.

 Adoption Process: 3 to 6 Months

Objective: 1 Choose adoption service provider.


Financial Implications: Agency application fee ($100-$600) or attorney retainer ($1,500-$5,000) is due at this time. After retainer is disbursed, attorney fees will be due monthly.

Objective 2: Begin process of locating your child.


Financial Implications: None

Objective 3: Prepare adoption budget.


Financial Implications: None

Adoption Process: 6 to 9 Months

Objective 1: Complete homestudy.


  • Discuss homestudy questions with your spouse/partner/family members.
  • Collect documents (references, birth certificates, tax returns, marriage certificate, divorce documents).
  • Work with your homestudy provider on tasks specific to his or her process or your adoption route.

Financial Implications:

  • $0-$200 for copies of documents
  • $1,000-$3,000 for the homestudy fee

Objective 2: Begin adoption process.


  • For international, prepare dossier and file U.S. visa paperwork.
  • For independent, begin networking and advertising activities to identify expectant mother.
  • For domestic agency, prepare profile for expectant mother review.

Financial Implications: Typically, up to half of the parent preparation fee is due at the start of the homestudy. With international, visa and documentation fees average $1,000-$3,000. If agency adoption, half of child placement fee is due at this time.

 Adoption Process: 9 to 24 Months

Objective: Receive child referral (international) or match with an expectant mother (domestic).


  • Arrange for referral documentation (international) review by adoption medicine specialist.
  • If independent, make arrangements for payment of birth mother expenses, per your agreement and as allowed by state law. Make payment arrangements with medical providers.
  • Work with your homestudy provider on tasks specific to his or her process or your adoption route.

Financial Implications: If agency, final half of child placement fee is due now. Birth mother's medical, legal, living, and/or counseling expenses will be paid from this time until birth of baby.

Adoption Process: 12 to 30 Months

Objective: Placement of child or birth of baby.


  • Enjoy! You are a new parent!

Financial Implications: Outstanding agency fees, if any, and travel expenses, if any, are due now. International fees and expenses are also due now. If independent, birthmother's hospital expenses are due now (baby's medical expenses are likely to be covered by your medical insurance).

 Adoption Process: 18 to 36 Months

Objective: Finalization of adoption.


  • Arrange for post-placement reports, as required.
  • Select attorney for final court hearing, or learn how to represent yourself.

Financial Implications: If adopting from foster care, ensure that adoption assistance agreement is in place before finalization and check the availability of reimbursement for one-time expenses in your state. Post-placement fees average $300-$1,000; finalization costs with attorney are typically $500-$2,000.

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