Independent or private adoption is when the birth parents place the child directly with the adoptive parent or parents without an agency or intermediary. Parents who pursue independent adoption must still enlist the help of adoption lawyers and other professionals to help with the process. Three states do not allow independent adoption - Colorado, Connecticut and Delaware.
An agency adoption is more or less what it sounds like: you will select and work with a state-certified adoption agency throughout your entire adoption journey. It is legal in all 50 states.
Domestic private/independent adoption ($10,000 to $30,000+)
These expenses can include a homestudy, advertising, documentation and authentication, postage and telephone costs, and any birth mother and birth family counseling needed. The biggest expense will be the lawyer's fees (both for the prospective parents' lawyer and the birth mother's laywer).
Attorney Jennifer Fairfax is a D.C./Virginia/Maryland-based practice who been helping create new families for nearly two decades.
""In many ways," says Fairfax, "I am a consultant or strategist for the adoptive parents. I walk my clients through all the different avenues — setting up advertising or online profiles on sites such as Parent Profiles or Potential Parents — and I review all their material before it goes live, giving input, making edits."
For Fairfax's clients, her fees average between $2,500 and $6,000; advertising can add several thousand dollars to their out-of-pocket expenses. "An online adoption site, for example, could cost $100 per month and you might be on it for two years."
Less advertising means less expense, of course. The flip side is that your match may take longer to find.
Birth mothers need legal representation too, and adoptive parents foot the bill. "These vary," says Fairfax, "but usually fall somewhere between $3,000 and $7,000."
"If an agency, an attorney, an advertiser or any third party helps find a birth mother for you," says Fairfax, "your adoption will probably fall in the $20,000 to $30,000 range. $20,000 or less is usually when the birth and adoptive parents are in the same state."
Domestic agency adoption ($30,000 to $50,000+)
Joy Goldstein and husband Michael Goldstein, both social workers, are the adoptive parents of three. Together they founded Forever Families Through Adoption, a licensed, nonprofit placement agency and resource center. Michael is also an attorney, whose practice focuses on adoption law; Joy is FFTA's executive director.
"It's an emotional journey," she explains. The financial anxiety many prospective parents feel doesn't help. The Goldsteins' formula — agency fees, attorney fees, home study and more — puts the base cost at about $23,000, but it will go up from there. How much depends on some things within your control, others not.
Additional expenses could include things like application approval and birth mother expenses, which can easily run into the thousands. The Goldsteins put this range at about $5,000 to $10,000.
"These can vary based on the laws of the state where [the birth mother] lives or whether she has medical insurance. In some states, for example, even if the mother contacts you in the ninth month, she is entitled to many months of court-approved, pregnancy-related living expenses. In New York State, it's typically three months."
Joy notes that when they were amid the process, they arranged for their birth mother to see a private physician. This would be an optional expense that adoptive parents would be expected to cover.
Internet advertising is another optional expense prospective parents can consider, one the Goldsteins say is generally worth it, garnering would-be parents greater exposure and a better shot at a birth mother finding them faster.
While adoption expenses are daunting, they are somewhat paced. Michael cautions people to be wary of agencies that require all the money up front. Generally speaking, the largest payment will be due at the time of matching. The caveat, of course, is that once a parent or parents are approved and ready, it may be months before your child comes home – or the call could come in a week, at which time, that money comes due.
Even if you've done a great job of saving, you may not be all the way there. Without it, your match could move on to another waiting family.
But believe it or not, there are places where you might get some help.
"Some parents take out a small home equity loan [for] that last big payment," says Becky Fawcett. "Others drain their savings. What causes me personal anguish is hearing that people are putting their adoption fees on credit cards and then paying 17.99 percent interest."
Fawcett and husband Kipp, in fact, are among the savings-drainers. Five rounds of IVF cost more than $80,000. The eventual adoption of their first son, about $40,000, wiped out the rest.
"We were so grateful to have that savings to drain," she notes, "but once we started to learn what people were doing to pay for adoption because they didn't [have the savings], the need to help was immediate."
So she founded HelpUsAdopt.org, a nonprofit that does just that, awards grants to prospective parents of all types who need that last bit of funding to say yes to a birth mother.
Fawcett stresses the organization's equal opportunity ideals. Her initial research turned up a handful of organizations that award similar grants, "but they made me sick to my stomach," she says, "so discriminatory in nature that to be quite honest, even my husband and I didn't qualify for a lot of them."
Note to those considering an application: This is not start-up money. Or middle money. Those who are awarded are already deep into the adoption process. There's a legal agreement involved.
"Our money is where you come up short. Applicants outline the details of how they have covered costs so far and we fill in the gap, whether it's a $5,000 grant or a $15,000 grant. We pay the last bills … checks that are due directly to the adoption professionals."
The number of grants awarded depends on the amounts each recipient needs; HelpUsAdopt gives away $100,000 each cycle. Fawcett says the hardest part is having to say no, but they continue to raise more money, each time helping more families. Once annual, they've since grown and now award grants thrice yearly.
Last cycle they received 380 applications, only 10 from LGBT families. She'd love to see more.
"I want the LGBT community to know that we're really here to help, that we – staff, advisory board, donors, everybody – believe in their journeys to be parents.
Answers adapted from A.D. Thompson's article on Gays With Kids: "The Cost of Becoming a Gay Dad: The Ultimate Guide."