Fathers with two children

Consider the Types of Adoption

The requirements, costs, and timing vary between and within the different types of adoption. There are four basic types of adoption (other than step-parent adoption):

  • Adoption from foster care
  • Domestic private adoption
  • International adoption
  • Independent adoption

Adoption from Foster Care

An adoption of a child in the custody of the state, provincial, or local foster care agency. The adoption may be completed directly by the public agency (department of human services or social services; in Canada, Children’s Aid Societies) or by a private agency contracted to complete adoptions from foster care.

  • Children available are in foster care and have likely experienced abuse, neglect, and trauma. The average age of waiting children in the US is about eight years old.
  • The approximate cost ranges from $0 to $2,500. (In the US, depending on the state, up to $2,000 of “nonrecurring” adoption costs for eligible special needs children may be reimbursed).
  • There are flexible eligibility requirements for adoptive parents, with decisions made on a case-by-case basis. Agencies will consider single parents, lesbian and gay parents, parents over the age of 40, parents who have other children, parents with low incomes, those who rent, etc.
  • The entire process may take a couple of years, starting with orientation, training, and then the home study process. It starts slowly, but for those who have an updated home study, placement can occur as soon as a few months after being selected for a particular child.

In a foster care adoption, many children are adopted by their foster parents or by their relatives. Some people decide to become a foster parent first, but there is no guarantee that foster parents will be able to adopt either the child in their care or any other child. Most children in foster care return to their birth families, and many are placed in the custody of relatives. Others are then adopted by parents the agency feels are best able to meet the child’s particular needs. 

Domestic Private Adoption

An adoption directed and supervised by a privately funded, licensed adoption agency.

  • Children available tend to be younger children, infants, and some children with disabilities or other challenges.
  • The approximate cost is $12,000 to $45,000 in the US and about $10,000 to $20,000 in Canada. Fees may be lower for children with disabilities, and some agencies have sliding fee scales.
  • Agencies may recruit parents based on race, religious affiliation, etc. For infant adoptions, the birth mother often chooses the adoptive parents.
  • It can take six months to a few years (sometimes longer for infant adoption).

International Adoption

The process of adopting a child from another country, which may be accomplished privately through an attorney or through an international adoption agency.

  • Many, many countries allow their children to be adopted by US or Canadian citizens. Ages range from infant to teens and health conditions vary.
  • The approximate cost is $18,000 to $60,000 in the US and from $20,000 to $30,000 in Canada. This varies by the child’s home country and travel-related expenses may be additional.
  • Who can adopt depends on the agency and country requirements. Some countries will accept single parents with most prospective parents between ages 25 and 45.
  • It can take six months to several years depending on the child’s age and health, and the country’s political climate.

In the US, the Office of Children’s Issues, part of the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the US Department of State, plays an active role in the intercountry adoption process. Consular Affairs assists prospective parents as they seek to adopt from abroad.

In Canada, you’ll want to learn about more about immigration and citizenship.

Independent Adoption

An adoption initiated by prospective adopters and completed with help from an attorney or adoption counselor. It’s not legal in all states; also known as private adoption.

  • Children available are generally infants.
  • The approximate cost is $8,000 to $40,000 or more, which includes prospective parents’ cost of finding a birth mother, certain birth mother expenses, and attorney’s fees.
  • Birth mothers typically choose the adoptive parent and there are often preferences toward younger, affluent, married couples.
  • The length of time to adopt varies depending on the length of time it takes to find a birth mother who will see the process through to finalization.

Think About How You’ll Pay for Adoption

Many adoption agencies do not charge fees to families who adopt children from foster care. However, you will need a home study, and because adoption is a legal process, you may need an attorney. For adoptions from foster care, these expenses are often covered by the public agency.

For other types of adoptions, parents typically have to pay the costs associated with the adoption. Below are ways that some people have gotten help paying for an adoption.

Loans

Some banks, credit unions, and foundations offer loans specifically for adoption costs. Each one of these credit unions and foundations will have their own eligibility requirements and interest rates. In Canada, the National Bank offers loan for international adoptions.

Many loans are project- or item-specific, but some can be used for whatever the borrower wants. Two such flexible loans are home equity loans (money borrowed against the value of your house) and insurance loans (money borrowed against the value of your life insurance policies). These loans come with relatively low interest rates and a choice of payment terms. To learn more, contact a bank or mortgage broker, or your life insurance company.

There are also no interest and low interest adoption loans available through a few nonprofits, foundations, credit unions, etc. These loans are generally available after your home study is approved. An Internet search is the best way to learn about these loans.

Grants

Adoption-related foundations also offer financial assistance to those hoping to adopt. Organizations provide grants to adoptive families based on an application process. The adoption grants are specifically for adoption cost, but unlike adoptions loans, do not need to be paid back.

Some examples of organizations that allow or encourage parents who are hoping to adopt children from foster care to apply for assistance:

Employer Assistance

Some employers offer adoption benefits that provide workers with:

  • Direct cash assistance for adoption expenses
  • Reimbursement of approved adoption expenses
  • Paid or unpaid leave (beyond federal leave requirements established through the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993)
  • Resource and referral services

Military Reimbursements

In the US, active-duty military personnel are eligible for a reimbursement of up to $2,000 per child to cover one-time adoption-related costs such as application and court fees or travel expenses. No more than $5,000 can be reimbursed in any one year, and payments are only issued after adoptions are finalized.

There are other benefits to military families such as up to 21 days of adoption leave to bond with your new child and health care benefits before the adoption is final. Learn more about military adoption benefits for active duty families at the National Military Family Association.

Tax Credits and Exclusions

Since 2003, US families who adopted a child with special needs from foster care could claim a federal adoption tax credit even if they had no adoption expenses. Children who receive adoption assistance/subsidy benefits are considered children with special needs. Other adoptive families are also eligible for the credit, but must have qualified adoption expenses.

Because the adoption tax credit is non-refundable it only benefits those who pay federal income tax so many families can claim the credit but can never use it.

The law also allows adoptive families whose employers have qualified adoption assistance programs to exclude some of those benefits from their income.

For more information about the credit and exclusion, review IRS Instructions for Form 8839Qualified Adoption Expenses or visit our adoption tax credit page.

In Canada, the federal government offers a tax credit in the year the adoption is finalized.

Adoption Assistance/Adoption Subsidy

If you adopt a US child who has been determined as special needs or some Canadian crown wards, the child may be eligible for adoption assistance (also known as adoption subsidy). Adoption assistance payments are designed to help offset the short- and long-term costs associated with adopting children who need special services.

In the US, most children adopted from the custody of state or county child welfare agencies (or private agencies under contract with the state who provide services for foster children) are eligible for adoption assistance benefits. In Canada eligibility, varies by province or territory.

In the US, benefits available through subsidy programs vary by state, but commonly include:

  • Monthly Cash Payments: Monthly payments up to an amount equal to the foster care payment the state would have made if the child were still in basic family foster care.
  • Medical Assistance: Medicaid benefits are provided through the federal program and some state programs. States must also provide health insurance for children whose parents have a signed adoption assistance agreement with the state if the children’s special needs are based on a need for medical, mental health, or rehabilitative care.
  • Social Services: Post-adoption services such as respite care, counseling, day care, etc.
  • Nonrecurring Adoption Expenses: A one-time reimbursement (up to $2,000) for adoption fees, court costs, attorney fees, physical or psychological examinations, and other expenses related to the legal adoption of a child who has special needs.

To learn more about adoption assistance, visit our adoption assistance information page.

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