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Parenting Last Updated: May 27th, 2019 - 13:51:51

The Cost of Adoption
By Geoff Williams
Oct 17, 2014, 16:32

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The Cost of Adoption
Prospective parents should go into the experience with their eyes and wallets open.

By Geoff Williams Oct. 2, 2014 | 9:38 a.m. EDT + More
It costs a lot to raise a child: According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, an average middle-aged couple whose baby was born last year can expect to spend over $245,000 to raise the child, not including paying for college.

If you're planning to adopt, you may end up spending an extra $40,000.

The Child Welfare Information Gateway, a U.S. government-funded adoption information service, estimates that the average U.S. adoption costs $8,000 to $40,000. If you're adopting a child from another country, the range is $15,000 to $30,000. If you're adopting through foster care, which generally involves becoming the parent of an older child, the cost is much lower: zero to $2,500.

So what exactly are you paying for, other than the opportunity to become a parent? Here's a breakdown of where some of your money goes.

[Read: Can I Afford a Baby? ]

Professionals. Your biggest cost will be a fee charged by the domestic or international adoption agency that matches you with a newborn. Prices run the gamut, according to Nicole Witt, executive director of the Brandon, Florida-based Adoption Consultancy, which helps parents work with adoption agencies and navigate the red tape. Hiring Witt is akin to hiring a real estate agent to help you sell a house instead of doing it on your own.

"Some agencies will just say, ‘Our agency fee is $25,000,’ and others will say, 'Our agency fee is $500, but we also charge you for x, y and z,'" Witt says. She adds that the larger agencies invest more time to find birth mothers and have higher overhead. "Smaller agencies don't make that investment and therefore cost less but also have fewer babies to place," she says.

Because many prospective parents naturally choose the lower-cost, smaller agencies, the wait times are longer than those of larger agencies, she says.

If the biological-parent situation gets complicated, more professionals get involved and costs rise, Witt says. For instance, attorneys are always involved in an adoption, "and if it's a legally complex case, that's more of the attorney’s time," Witt says. "If you have a lot of discussions with the birth father, that's going to be more expensive."

Charges for adoption consultants like Witt also vary. Her pricing is tiered, but if one were to use her throughout the entire adoption process, the cost could be almost $3,000.

But like a real estate or travel agent, an adoption consultant may save you money in the long run. Monica Smith, a 33-year-old publicist in Orlando, Florida, says that before hiring Witt, she and her husband, Jeremy, a 39-year-old executive recruiter, blew through $15,000, using a private attorney and working with several agencies to no avail.

"Not only did [Witt] help us better understand the adoption process, but her ability to put us in front of the right agencies in parts of the country we never would have thought to explore gave us more opportunities," Smith says.

That’s not to say everything was inexpensive and easy the moment they hired an adoption consultant. Smith and her husband spent another $60,000 – $37,000 of which went to an agency placement fee. Much of that amount, Smith says, was due upon matching, "meaning that a bulk of that money was at risk of being lost if the birth mother had changed her mind. It's a tremendous leap of faith."

[Read: 7 Ways to Cut Child Care Costs .]

Travel. Of course, you have to go get your baby. "We spent over five weeks in Louisiana," says Lauren Hefner, an Arlington, Virginia, resident and director at a businesswomen's association. "Our birth mother thought she was in labor three weeks before she actually was. So we had well over a month of hotel expenses, food and gas."

Hefner, who adopted her baby boy less than two months ago, says she and her husband were at least able to work from their hotel and avoid losing a month and a half of income.

Smith and her husband had a similar experience, but on the birth's back end. "Because we matched with an agency in another state and our son was then born in a third state, we had to clear the ICPC process in three states total," she says, referring to the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children, a federal law designed to ensure children placed out of their home state get the same protections and services they would receive in their home state. "That meant that three separate state agencies had to review our already approved home study after our son was born and in our custody but before we could depart his home state."

The cost can climb even higher if you're flying to far-flung countries like the Philippines and China to adopt.

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