How do costs vary among different kinds of adoptions?
Every adoption has unique factors that affect cost, but, as a general rule, foster-care adoptions are the least expensive; international adoptions are more expensive but generally predictable; private, infant adoptions range widely, depending on several factors.
No matter what kind of adoption you’re doing, the child’s own circumstances can profoundly affect the cost. Adoption agencies often offer incentives to parents who will adopt children who are older, not white, have any kind of disability, or come in a sibling group. The practice of discounting fees for the adoption of African-American and biracial children, however, has now been recognized as offensive by many, and most agencies are phasing this out. While you may still encounter an agency that charges different fees depending on the child’s race, it is your decision whether or not to work with them.
Why should adoption cost money, anyway?
Many of our families come to adoption after years of expensive infertility treatment, and feel it’s unfair that they now have to pay to adopt a child who needs a family. Among the strategies they recommend are: understanding every component of the fees, so you feel more in control; taking advantage of every possible form of grant and reimbursement to get the costs down; working through a nonprofit agency with humanitarian programs — you can take comfort in the fact that your money is doing good.
Where does the money go?
Fee schedules vary among agencies, attorneys, and countries, but understanding all the possible components of the costs will help you avoid surprises later. Before you sign a contract with anyone, get a complete breakdown of their expected fees; check the breakdown against the lists below, and ask about any missing items so you can calculate potential extras.
How much do I pay a birth mother in a private adoption?
The expenses that prospective parents pay in connection with an adoption are regulated by state law. In most states, adoptive parents can pay a birth family’s medical, legal, and counseling expenses during the pregnancy and for a short time afterward. Many states also permit some assistance with living expenses (check your state’s guidelines for limits on what’s considered acceptable).
State regulations on birth family expenses are complicated and ever-changing; in addition, judges have some discretion in deciding what’s reasonable. To safeguard your money and your adoption, never, ever pay a birth family directly — even to reimburse them for expenses. Always pay via an attorney or agency.
If she backs out, can I get my money back?
In some states, expenses paid on behalf of a birth mother are considered to be a gift and can’t be recovered. In others, a reimbursement agreement with a birth mother is legal and enforceable. Yet, even when adoptive parents have the option of suing, the reality is that most mothers won’t be able to repay them. Adoptive parents hoping to recoup their money will only end up having spent more in legal fees, with little chance of success.
At big adoption agencies, with deeper pockets, families who have suffered through a birth family’s change in plans can request a reduction in agency fees and assistance in applying for adoption grants.
Instead of hoping to recover money spent on expectant-mother expenses, take steps to minimize your financial risk in the event of a failed adoption. Put money into escrow to repay the birth mother for expenses after the adoption has been finalized, and ensure that the birth mother has counseling through her pregnancy and afterward.
What kind of payments are illegal?
While states vary in specific rules on reimbursing a birth parent, the underlying principle everywhere is that no one can profit from giving up a child. Payments or gifts to a birth family that are more than reimbursement for “reasonable and customary expenses” could be grounds for overturning an adoption. Your agency or attorney should have guidelines; follow them carefully, and make sure they are explained to the expectant mother and her family.
In some U.S. states, payments to facilitators or consultants are illegal.
In international adoption, practices vary from country to country, but the Hague Adoption Convention has two simple rules: No one can give money to a child’s birth parents, or to anyone else, as an inducement to relinquish a child, and no one should receive an incentive for locating or placing a child. Even if the country you are adopting from has not joined the Hague Convention, you’d be wise to follow the guidelines. They’re just common sense.
What are common hidden costs?
Adoptive families sometimes find themselves surprised by expenses that crop up when they are well into the process: attorney or agency mailing and copying expenses, notaries’ fees, doctors’ bills for physicals. Before you sign a contract with an agency or attorney, ask for a complete, written breakdown of costs, including an estimate of expenses the agency or attorney will pass along to you, and compare notes with other parents who have adopted by the same route.
In our experience, most of the “surprises” are in the cost of travel. Even if you are adopting within the U.S., you may well end up paying for the birth mother and her family to travel closer to you, or you (and your family) may travel to her. Either way, you are likely paying airfares and hotel costs for several people.
Will my health insurance cover the child?
Under U.S. law, insurers must treat your adopted child exactly as if you had just given birth (even if the child is a teenager). They cannot ask you to wait until re-enrollment, they cannot deny treatment for existing conditions, and coverage must begin on the day you became responsible for the child, even if the adoption hasn’t been finalized yet.
Can I get leave from work to adopt a child?
Under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), large companies must allow up to 12 weeks’ leave for specified circumstances, including the adoption of a child. However, FMLA leave is unpaid, and employers can require employees to use any accumulated vacation, sick leave, or other paid time off during the leave. Some employers offer paid adoption leaves in addition to the FMLA leave. Our families say it’s a good idea to find an adoptive parent in your company’s management or Human Resources department, and ask for guidance, to make sure you get every benefit possible.