Adoption Cost and Timing in 2014-2015

How much does adoption really cost? How long does it take? We share the results of our latest Adoption Cost & Timing Survey.

Adoption cost

Each year, Adoptive Families polls newly formed families across the country to get actual information on the cost and length of time it took those families to complete their adoptions. We are grateful to every one of you who took our most recent Cost & Timing of Adoption Survey.

Adoption expenses vary according to the route and country program, the agency or attorney used, and secondary expenses, such as travel. With the exception of adopting a child via the U.S. public foster care system, it remains expensive to adopt in the U.S. or internationally. Total costs range from almost nothing, if you adopt from U.S. foster care, to more than $50,000 from several international countries. Of adoptions finalized in 2014 and 2015, international adoptions cost an average of $42,000; U.S. newborn adoptions cost an average of $38,000.

As with cost, adoption timelines vary depending on route. There is a much greater range of wait times reported in U.S. newborn and foster adoption than in international country programs. On average, a majority of families will be matched with their child, an expectant mother, or receive an international referral within one year; the vast majority will be matched within two years. The notable exception to this is the “Traditional” (non-waiting-child) China adoption program, in which 100% of families that adopted in 2014/15 waited longer than five years. Families that adopted a waiting child from China in that same period, on the other hand, had a much different experience, with 75% receiving their referrals in less than six months; 84% in less than one year.

If you’d like to reprint this information or cite our findings, please submit a Reprint Rights Request and Agreement Form and credit us appropriately.

Did you adopt in 2015 or 2016? Please take our current survey >

 

Country-by-Country Data

Here are the average expenses and timelines reported by families who completed adoptions in 2014 or 2015 from the U.S. and the top three 2015 sending countries, China, Ethiopia, and South Korea. Along with the data, we present individual comments that indicate why a family’s total cost or timing might fall outside the averages.


U.S. Newborn,

via an Adoption Agency

Average cost: $41,532
Matched within 1 year: 62%
matched within 2 years: 84%

U.S. NEWBORN (AGENCY) COST

The average costs reported by families that adopted a U.S. newborn through an adoption agency in 2014/15 represented a 7.9% increase over the previous two-year reported average.

The total costs cited below exclude expenses associated with any “false starts” with expectant mothers. Forty percent of all U.S. newborn respondents experienced one or more false starts. Of those families, 56% reported costs of less than $2,500 associated with each false start. Ten percent of all U.S. families with false starts were matched with an expectant mother who ultimately decided not to place the child after giving birth.

U.S. Newborn (Agency) – Average Cost Breakdown

Home study fee $2,345
Document preparation & authentication $802
Adoption agency application & program fees $16,920
Adoption consultant fees $2,853
Attorney fees $4,129
Advertising/networking $2,271
Birth family counseling $783
Birth mother expenses $4,353
Foster care $325
Travel expenses $1,940
Post-placement expenses $1,911
All other expenses $2,900
AVERAGE TOTAL* $41,532
* Average represents total costs before claiming the Adoption Tax Credit.

U.S. Newborn (Agency) families on their total cost:

“Our successful adoption was through an agency, but we had already paid a facilitator $14,000. We paused that contract when we found out about the agency match, but can reactivate it for an additional six months when we’re ready to try to adopt a second baby.”

“Our adoption costs were higher than anticipated due to the birth father contesting and then appealing the county court’s decision. This increased our legal and post placement fees by about $10,000.”

“Our daughter was born seven weeks early. We had higher costs due to the NICU stay.”

“Our agency rolled expenses for a false start into the next attempt. If they hadn’t, our expenses would have been much higher.”

“We used a large agency with a great deal of resources and experience. As such, it was the most expensive one that we looked at. We felt it was worth every penny.”

“We felt like we paid a lot of money to our agency, and they didn’t do much to help us adopt. We hired a consultant after waiting a year, then had to hire a separate attorney to correct the agency’s paperwork. I say, vet your agency carefully.”

“Our adoption agency adjusts their fees based on the family’s gross income.”

“We found our child’s birth mother through a friend, so we avoided marketing expenses and the agency’s match fee.”

“It’s a sad truth, but some agencies charge lower fees for African-American or multiracial children.”

“Our adoption was a ‘baby born” scenario, so we didn’t have any birth mother expenses. Travel expenses were slightly higher, though, because it was last-minute.”

U.S. NEWBORN (AGENCY) TIMING

The average wait times reported by families that adopted a U.S. newborn through an adoption agency in 2014/15 were similar to the timing results from the 2013/14 survey. Thirty-four percent of all U.S. newborn respondents were matched with the expectant mother of the child they ultimately adopted less than one month before the baby was born. Seventeen percent were matched after the baby was born.

Total time to adopt as reported in this survey includes any time spent in false starts. In general, the fewer restrictions you place on the child you hope to adopt in terms of race, prenatal exposures, gender, and birth family contact, the shorter your wait will be.

U.S. Newborn (Agency) – Average Time to Be Matched

0-6 months 43%
6-12 months 20%
12-18 months 11%
18-24 months 10%
2-3 years 9%
3 years or longer 7%

 

U.S. Newborn (Agency) families on their total timeline:

“We were matched and assisted with the delivery of our baby boy in a span of 2.5 hours. It was a whirlwind!”

“We were open to special needs, and any race or gender, and considered each situation on a case-by-case basis. I’m so glad we didn’t preclude medical complications outright or we may have missed out on connecting with our daughter.”

“At first, we wanted to specify gender. After waiting for 15 months, we dropped that criteria.”

“A small error in the agency’s paperwork meant we waited 11 months to finalize, instead of six.”

“Our child’s birth father agreed to the adoption, but then disappeared, so we had to wait out the specified time period before terminating his parental rights, which delayed the finalization.”

“Our son has major medical issues and was in the hospital during our original finalization date, so we had to push it back.”


U.S. Newborn,

via an Adoption Attorney

Average cost: $35,594
Matched within 1 year: 67%
Matched within 2 years: 86%

U.S. NEWBORN (ATTORNEY) COST

The average costs reported by families that adopted a U.S. newborn through an adoption attorney in 2014/15 represented a 4.7% increase over the previous two-year reported average.

When families adopt independently, through an attorney rather than through an adoption agency, their expenses can vary greatly. For example, expenses may be quite low if they match through word of mouth, the expectant mother’s expenses are minimal, and the legal procedure is straightforward. On the other hand, a family’s expenses can be much higher if they use online services or pay a consultant or a facilitator to work on their parent profile or find the match. The total costs cited below exclude expenses associated with any “false starts” with expectant mothers.

U.S. Newborn (Attorney) – Average Cost Breakdown

Home study fee $1,732
Document preparation & authentication $929
Adoption agency application & program fees $5,780
Adoption consultant fees $1,014
Attorney fees $13,342
Advertising/networking $1,616
Birth family counseling $621
Birth mother expenses $4,748
Foster care $105
Travel expenses $2,758
Post-placement expenses $781
All other expenses $1,168
AVERAGE TOTAL* $34,594
* Average represents total costs before claiming the Adoption Tax Credit.

U.S. Newborn (Attorney) families on their total cost:

“Our costs were very low because we knew the expectant mother and she didn’t ask for any expense reimbursement.”

“The adoption attorney we worked with donated her services, so our expenses were just for the home study and some court costs.”

“I paid extra fees to hire an adoption consultant, but I credit her for my successful adoption. She was the only person I had on my side during the whole process.”

“We started our process using an agency. After waiting a long time (and paying about half the total costs), we decided to look at other options and ultimately adopted through a private attorney. So, basically, we paid for an adoption-and-a-half.”

“We paid two lawyers because it was an intrastate adoption. We also paid birth family expenses for three months after the adoption.”

U.S. NEWBORN (ATTORNEY) TIMING

The average wait times reported by families that adopted a U.S. newborn through an adoption agency in 2014/15 were slightly longer than the timing results from the 2013/14 survey. Sixty-seven percent of families who completed this year’s survey were matched within one year, compared to 75% in the previous survey.

Total timelines as reported in this survey include any time spent in false starts. A larger percentage of U.S. attorney families match very quickly, compared with U.S. agency families, as this group includes families that match through word of mouth or online before seeking the services of an attorney. They may also actively search for a match rather than waiting on an agency’s list.

U.S. Newborn (Attorney) – Average Time to Be Matched

0-6 months 46%
6-12 months 22%
12-18 months 7%
18-24 months 12%
2-3 years 10%
3 years or longer 3%

U.S. Newborn (Attorney) families on their total timeline:

“The child was already born when we were contacted by family members of the birth mother.”

“This was our second adoption from the same birth mother. When she found out she was pregnant, she asked us if we would adopt our child’s sister. Of course we said yes! So, technically, no ‘wait.’”

“We had some delay due to ICWA complications. The judge asked for more details to verify that our daughter was not eligible for tribal enrollment (because her birth mother is a member) before he signed off on the adoption.”

“The wait is funny in domestic adoption. After waiting for what seemed like forever (about a year), we got the call and had to travel that day!”

“We had pretty limited preferences for race and drug and alcohol use. We were told it would take a long time, and it did.”

“Our lawyer was just slow.”


U.S. Foster Adoption

Adoptions in FY 2014: 50,644
Average cost: $2,811
Average monthly subsidy: $846
Matched within 1 year: 64%
Matched within 2 years: 76%
Finalized within 1 year: 38%
Finalized within 2 years: 77%

U.S. FOSTER ADOPTION COST

The average costs reported by families that adopted through U.S. foster care in 2014/15 represented a significant increase (~60%) over the previous two-year reported average. However, with relatively minimal costs involved, a small portion of families who report very high costs can skew the overall average. A significant percent of families reported $0 in expenses. Families that reported higher expenses may have had medical expenses, included new clothing and furniture for the child in their total cost, hired a private attorney, or traveled multiple times and/or a long distance to visit the foster child before placement.

Foster adoptive families may claim the full adoption tax credit, regardless of expenses paid. Children may also qualify for ongoing monthly subsidies, health coverage through Medicaid, and, in some states, college tuition.

U.S. Foster Adoption – Average Cost Breakdown

Home study fee $336
All other document preparation & paperwork fees $107
Attorney fees $1,124
Travel expenses $481
All other expenses $763
AVERAGE TOTAL $2,811
* Average represents total costs before claiming the Adoption Tax Credit.

U.S. Foster Adoption families on their total cost:

“The only costs we had were associated with getting licensed to foster/adopt, such as the fire inspection, First Aid/CPR certification, etc. Everything else was covered by the state.”

“The state paid for all the paperwork from our home study to the adoption papers. The state also paid for our adoption attorney. Our wonderful attorney paid for the new birth certificates and the adoption decrees. So we paid nothing at all.”

“It cost very little, and even less when you factor in the stipends, child development center subsidies, and free health care for the two years between placement and finalization.”

“Our child was placed with us at two days old, his adoption wasn’t finalized until he was nearly three. Along the way, we had a lot of travel expenses that weren’t reimbursed by DHS.”

“My son has multiple special needs. My family had to make several trips and spend time being trained to care for his needs. We also had to have special equipment in place before he could come to live with us.”

U.S. FOSTER ADOPTION TIMING

In U.S. foster adoption, placement can happen quickly, and often with little warning, but 44% of families fostered one or more children before adopting. The entire foster process, from foster certification to adoption finalization, is often lengthy, but the child may be in your care for most or nearly all of that time.

Some families that adopted through U.S. foster care reported slightly shorter wait times compared to the 2013/14 survey. Sixty-four percent of families who completed this year’s survey were matched within one year vs. 56% in the previous survey.

U.S. Foster – Average Time to Placement of Child Adopted

0-6 months 48%
6-12 months 16%
12-18 months 7%
18-24 months 5%
2 years or longer 24%

U.S. Foster – Average Time from Placement to Finalization

0-6 months 13%
6-12 months 25%
12-18 months 21%
18-24 months 18%
2 years or longer 23%

U.S. Foster Adoption families on their total timeline:

“We adopted a child for whom parental rights had already been terminated, so it went quickly.”

“My daughter was 17 at the time and there was a lot of support from my agency and CPS to get her adopted before she turned 18.”

“A distant biological relative legally contested our child’s adoption and brought several legal charges against the state. Each one took several months to complete.”

“Our child was not ready to be adopted at first. We waited eight months to start the paperwork because she was so scared.”

“The state’s foster office was short-staffed, so the paperwork took much longer than it should have.”


China

Adoptions to the U.S. in 2015: 2,354
Average cost: $36,070
Traditional Program, matched within 5 years: 0%
Waiting-Child Program, matched within 6 months: 75%
Waiting-Child Program, matched within 1 year: 84%
Waiting-Child Program, matched within 2 years: 93%
Adopted a child younger than two years: 28%
Adopted a child younger than five years: 72%

CHINA ADOPTION COST

Total costs excluded expenses associated with any previous unsuccessful attempts to adopt, and were similar for Traditional and Waiting Child adoptions. The average costs reported by families that adopted from China in 2014/15 represented a 4.9% decrease over the previous two-year reported average.

The greatest variations in cost fell within the program fee, depending on the adoption agency used, and the travel expenses—some families choose to bring more family members on the trip, extend their stay beyond the required length, or stay in higher end hotels, or must travel during a peak season; others save on these expenses by using rewards points for travel or lodging.

China – Average Cost Breakdown

Home study fee $2,194
Adoption agency application & program fees $9,351
All other document preparation & paperwork fees $2,410
In-country adoption expenses $5,736
Child’s passport, visa, medical exam, and other fees $573
Major travel expenses $8,249
In-country travel expenses $2,730%
Post-adoption expenses $2,062
All other expenses $2,713
AVERAGE TOTAL $36,070
* Average represents total costs before claiming the Adoption Tax Credit.

China families on their total cost:

“Everything was outlined and all the costs were explained.”

“Our travel costs were high because we traveled with all of our family.”

“Our biggest fees were for the dossier and our travel expenses. Traveling to China was very expensive, but it was a trip of a lifetime!”

“Our adoption took several years to complete, and we had to update paperwork each year. That added to the total cost.”

CHINA ADOPTION TIMING

Adoption from China has slowed down significantly over the past decade. Families that wish to adopt a healthy infant from China must apply through the “Traditional” program and be prepared for a long wait. All of the “Traditional” Program respondents to the 2014-2015 survey waited longer than five years for their referrals. Families that are open to an older child and/or a child with special needs (which vary from minor, correctable needs such as cleft lip to ongoing health conditions) adopt through China’s “Waiting Child” program; the wait for a referral in this program can be minimal, as many families select their child from a list of waiting children.

China Waiting-Child Program families on their total timeline:

“We were matched with the child before we updated our home study. China calls it pre-approval.”

“The process in China is very standardized. We were there for the required two weeks.”

“Our son was considered special needs, although his need is rather minor. We were open to all sorts of physical needs and considered a ‘young’ couple compared to other adoptive parents (according to our social worker), so our wait was relatively short.”

“We flew during a time when families were experiencing significant delays from the U.S. for their children’s visas. The group a month ahead of us was stuck there an extra week, so I padded my trip with that possible delay in mind.”


Ethiopia

Adoptions to the U.S. in 2015: 335
Average cost: $38,667
Matched within 1 year: 56%
Matched within 2 years: 78%
Adopted a child younger than two years: 67%
Adopted a child younger than five years: 78%

ETHIOPIA ADOPTION COST

Total costs excluded expenses associated with any previous unsuccessful attempts to adopt. After the total cost to adopt from Ethiopia rose sharply in recent years, families that completed the most recent Adoption Cost & Timing survey reported a significant decrease in expenses last year—of about 30%.

The greatest variations in cost fell within the program fee, depending on the adoption agency used, and the travel expenses. When adopting from Ethiopia, families must either take two trips or one longer trip (of three to four weeks).

Ethiopia – Average Cost Breakdown

Home study fee $2,500
Adoption agency application & program fees $17,500
All other document preparation & paperwork fees $4,500
In-country adoption expenses $1,600
Child’s passport, visa, medical exam, and other fees $1,500
Major travel expenses $8,167
In-country travel expenses $1,250
Post-adoption expenses $1,650
All other expenses $0
AVERAGE TOTAL $38,667
* Average represents total costs before claiming the Adoption Tax Credit.

Ethiopia families on their total cost:

“Travel and expenses while in country, combined with agency fees—it all adds up.”

“We adopted two siblings at the same time, so everything cost much more than we had originally anticipated. We knew it would cause a financial burden, but we couldn’t come to terms with the idea of separating the children.”

ETHIOPIA ADOPTION TIMING

The length of the Ethiopia adoption process has increased several times in the last few years, as the country enacted an intentional slowdown in the review of adoption cases in 2011, and as the Pre-Adoption Immigration Review (PAIR) process was implemented in 2014. Within the past year, however, some families reported slightly shorter wait times. In the 2014/15 Adoption Cost & Timing Survey, 56% of families that adopted from Ethiopia received their referral within one year, compared with 46% in the previous Survey.

Ethiopia families on their total timelines:

“The PAIR (Pre-Adoption Immigration Review) process added to our post-referral timeline. We also had a slow down in country that was related to an election period. And then, because the process stretched to longer than a year, we had to update documents and our home study.”

“Family are typically required to travel to Ethiopian twice. However, we decided to travel within the country between the ‘trips.’ The U.S. portion of the final process went very quickly.”


South Korea

Adoptions to the U.S. in 2015: 318
Average cost: $46,412
Matched within 1 year: 56%
Matched within 2 years: 81%
Adopted a child younger than two years: 34%
Adopted a child younger than five years: 100%

SOUTH KOREA ADOPTION COST

Total costs excluded expenses associated with any previous unsuccessful attempts to adopt. The average costs reported by families that adopted from South Korea in 2014/15 represented a 10% decrease over the previous two-year reported average. The greatest variations in cost fell within the program fee, depending on the adoption agency used, and the travel expenses. These have risen in the last few years, since South Korea began requiring two trips instead of one.

South Korea – Average Cost Breakdown

Home study fee $2,341
Adoption agency application & program fees $21,918
All other document preparation & paperwork fees $1,831
In-country adoption expenses $2,528
Child’s passport, visa, medical exam, and other fees $557
Major travel expenses $9,567
In-country travel expenses $1,262
Post-adoption expenses $1,408
All other expenses $5,000
AVERAGE TOTAL $46,412
* Average represents total costs before claiming the Adoption Tax Credit.

South Korea families on their total cost:

“Korea now requires two trips. These were spaced six weeks apart, and we had little notice for each one, so that significantly increases travel costs.”

“We did not incur hotel or flight expense. My husband’s company paid for that because he worked in Korea while we waited to bring our child home. That would have added an additional $10,000.”

SOUTH KOREA ADOPTION TIMING

Families that completed adoptions from South Korea in the last two years reported a slower process following the country’s implementation of its Special Adoption Law in 2012 and annual quotas. Fifty-six percent of families that adopted in 2014/2015 reported receiving referrals within one year, vs. 81% of respondents to our 2013/14 Adoption Cost & Timing Survey.

For many families with long timelines, the longer wait came after receiving the referral.

South Korea families on their total timeline:

“We adopted a waiting child, so we completely skipped the referral process.”

“South Korea’s process changed mid-adoption, and the country began requiring two visits. It took 24 months after receiving the referral until we met out child.”

“We waited a long time, though I’ve heard that referrals are coming more quickly for families now.”


About the Survey

Adoptive Families’ Annual Adoption Cost & Timing Surveys are conducted online, and are open to families that have finalized adoptions in the two most recent calendar years. The information about the adoptions reported on here was collected from March 2015 through February 2016 and includes information about 1,231 adoptions finalized in 2014 and 2015. It’s important to note that this survey collects self-reported data.

Giving Back

In order to gather as much data as possible, we once again posed a challenge: If more than 1,000 parents who adopted in 2014 or 2015 completed our survey, we’d select one at random and donate $250 to the adoption charity of his or her choice. We are grateful to every one of you who took the time to share your data and are thrilled to report that more than 1,200 surveys were completed!

The winner of our giveaway was Sonia McGarrity, and we were honored to make a donation to the National Down Syndrome Adoption Network in her name. This non-profit organization works to ensure that every child born with Down syndrome has the opportunity to grow up in a loving family.


Copyright © 2016 Adoptive Families magazine. If you’d like to reprint this information or cite our findings, please contact Adoptive Families about crediting us appropriately.




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Adoption Agencies

Adoptions From the Heart
Wynnewood, PA
U.S. Newborn
Open Door Adoption Agency, Inc.
Thomasville, GA
U.S. Newborn, U.S. Foster, International, Special Needs/Waiting Child
Abrazo Adoption Associates
San Antonio, TX
U.S. Newborn, Special Needs/Waiting Child
WACAP (World Association for Children and Parents)
Seattle, WA
U.S. Foster, International, Special Needs/Waiting Child
MLJ Adoptions International
Indianapolis, IN
International, Special Needs/Waiting Child
Gladney Center for Adoption
Fort Worth, TX
U.S. Newborn, U.S. Foster, International, Special Needs/Waiting Child
Holt International Children’s Services
Eugene, OR
U.S. Foster, International, Special Needs/Waiting Child
Children’s Home Society & Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota
Saint Paul, MN
U.S. Newborn, U.S. Foster, International, Special Needs/Waiting Child
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