Why Does Adoption Cost So Much?

February 15, 2021

Note: This article covers the costs of adopting children outside the Foster Care system. If you’re hoping to adopt a child who is currently in foster care, click here to get started!

When people hear that the cost of a typical adoption is between $20,000 to $50,000, the first question they usually ask is, “Why does adoption cost so much?” It can be hard to understand how something as wholesome as bringing a vulnerable child into a loving home can be so prohibitively expensive.

But to make the adoption process work safely, securely, and with the best interests of everyone involved, there are a number of professions that need to be a part of the process. Virtually all adoption journeys will have social workers, physicians, government employees, attorneys, adoption specialists, therapists, and more coming alongside the adoptive family and birth family along the way.

Regardless of whether your adoption is domestic or international, these are the basic categories for adoption costs:

  1. Adoption Agency Fees and/or Adoption Consultant Fees
  2. Legal Fees – Attorney and Court Costs
  3. Medical Expenses for the child and/or birth mom
  4. Travel
  5. Miscellaneous Costs

Let’s break down each one to get a better understanding of adoption costs.

Adoption Agency Fees

$8,000 to $40,000*

Unless you are planning to have an independent adoption, all adoptions in the United States require an adoption agency that is licensed in the state of the adoptive family. These agencies operate as the guide, liaison, and first point of contact for adoptive families for the entirety of the adoption process. Agency services can vary widely, but may include:

  • Social work and/or advertising services needed to match a child with a prospective birth family
  • Pre-adoption and post-adoption counseling for birth parents and/or adoptive parents
  • Birth parent medical and legal expenses
  • Adoptive parent(s) preparation and training
  • Interim care for a child if needed
  • Post-placement supervision
  • Covering home study costs, and/or court and legal fees
  • If adopting internationally, agencies may cover immigration filing or other paperwork specific to the adoptee’s country of origin

Some adoptive families decide to employ an adoption consultant in addition to an agency. Consultants can help reduce the adoptive family’s match wait time as well as reduce some of the agency costs by taking certain tasks off the agency’s plate.

Legal Fees

$1,000 to $20,000+

All adoptions require a completed Home Study, which typically cost between $1,000 to $2,500. Additionally, the adoption process usually requires the help of an attorney to provide the necessary legal filings and proceedings specific to your adoption, such as handling the relinquishment of parental rights for the birth family.

The Legal Fees cost category is one that can vary significantly depending on whether you are adopting domestically or internationally. International adoptions will likely require additional costs such as passport and visa processing fees, foreign attorney fees, and any additional legal filings and proceedings specific to the adoptee’s country of origin.

The highest end of the Legal Fees cost range is typically representative of independent adoptions, where an attorney, rather than an adoption agency, is the primary conduit between an adoptive family and birth family.

Medical Expenses

$500 to $9,000+

During the adoption process, the adoptive family may be expected to cover some medical expenses for the birth mother and the child. Some adoption agencies will cover virtually all medical expenses related to the birth mother in the expense listed above, and/or even some of the adoptee’s expenses, so it’s important to have a thorough understanding of your agency’s program and policies.

Here are a few medical expenses you may encounter on your adoption journey:

  • Birth mother pregnancy and delivery expenses
  • Medical examinations
  • Unexpected medical emergencies for birth mother or adoptee
  • Adoptee’s putative father location efforts
  • If adopting internationally, any necessary adoptee medical procedures necessary upon arrival in the United States or review of the international medical records by a doctor prior to accepting the adoption referral.

Be mindful that Medicaid or other medical insurance may apply for medical expenses not covered by an adoption agency.


$1,000 to $10,000

Unless the adoptive family and birth family happen to live in the same city, travel expenses will be an important consideration in your budgeting decisions. Some travel expenses could be:

  • Transportation to and from the location of the birth family and/or adoptee
  • Hotel or other lodging expenses
  • Food or other miscellaneous expenses during travel
  • Transportation of birth mother to ultrasounds or other physician visits

Be aware that depending on the state or country of residence of the birth family and/or adoptee, there may be multiple trips required over the course of your adoption journey.

Miscellaneous Costs


It’s best to prepare for costs that you or your agency may not see coming. For example, many adoptive families have to ship legal documents across the country or around the world. Shipping documents back and forth between agencies and legal offices can add up to hundreds of dollars! Additionally, many families find out they need to travel within weeks or months of court dates or due dates, and last minute flights aren’t cheap! 

To minimize the chance of any surprise costs, don’t be afraid to ask your agency, adoption attorney, or other adoptive parents about their experiences.

Adoption is expensive, but there are many options for adoptive families to reduce the financial burden. Adoptive families often finance their adoption through multiple means such as grants, loans, or the Adoption Tax Credit. However, the most rewarding and often most lucrative source of financial support often comes through fundraising. At Both Hands, we recommend that every adoptive family engages in fundraising for their adoption, as fundraising provides an invitation for the adoptive family’s community to get involved in their adoption journey.

*All cost estimates are based on an aggregate of primary research, Childwelfare.gov, AdoptiveFamilies.com, AmericanAdoptions.com, and FundYourAdoption.tv

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