The Economics of Adoption: Using an Attorney vs. Private Adoption Agency

So I’m that guy that decided to go forward with a private adoption thinking it would be cheaper and easier than working with an adoption agency.

Adoption agreement

When we received the information that the birth mother of our first adopted son was once again pregnant, we had some mixed feelings. With our first son, we went through a private adoption agency and the cost was difficult for us to manage. We have no regrets at spending the $30,000 fee that the agency charged the first adoption, but we just didn’t feel that we would be able to afford another costly adoption so soon afterward. At the same moment, we wanted the baby and could not imagine telling our son that we couldn’t afford to bring his brother into our home when he was older. It seemed silly on one hand to quibble over the cost of adopting a half sibling, but on the other hand, it would put a serious financial burden on our family.

Upon further research, we were told by the adoption agency that their fees had gone up since our last adoption. The current fee would be $33,000 plus any medical expenses incurred during the birth. The medical costs could be anywhere between $7,000 and up to $10,000 if a c-section was necessary, and any costs associated with complications would be ours as well. That brought the cost to a range between $40,000 and $43,000.

Here is some un-professional tax advice for people looking to adopt. There are adoption tax credits available to adoptive families. In our situation there was up to $12,000 in non-refundable tax credits. Non-refundable means that you don’t get it back unless you owe taxes. If you owe taxes, the tax credit is a dollar for dollar reduction of your tax bill. It will usually make your refund larger, but you won’t necessarily get the money back in the first year. Consult your CPA for further information on this.

Even with the adoption tax credit, the price was so high that we felt we couldn’t move forward with the adoption because of the cost. The only other option we had was to work out a private adoption and work with birth mother directly. Believing this would cost less, while knowing it would be difficult to manage the situation, we chose to move forward without the adoption agency.

We contacted the birth mother and told her our situation would not allow us to go through the agency, but that we would like to handle it privately. She was hesitant at first, but she decided that she would cooperate in order to keep the kids together. My wife and I started making phone calls and doing research into the costs that we would have in doing an adoption privately. We interviewed lawyers and spoke with social workers and hospitals to pin down all the costs that we would be responsible for.

Our budget included an estimate of travel and living expenses to move the birth mother closer to us during the last two months of the pregnancy as that is what she had asked us to do. All together we estimated the cost of a private adoption at between $15,000 and $18,000. That was still a stretch for our finances, but we decided we would make it work one way or another.

The adoption turned out to be very difficult. The day to day events could fill a book and I don’t want to get into the difficult details of the situation. To put it concisely, when you are doing a private adoption, you take the roles of social worker, adoptive family, and financial provider on yourself at the same time. It puts you in a very tenuous position, and opens you up for manipulation. If you know going into the situation that you will be manipulated, be sure and be open and honest with your spouse on how much you are willing to be manipulated. We found it to be very difficult to refuse extravagant demands when she threatened to leave and not place with us. We would not only be devastated at losing the baby, but any money we had already spent in the adoption would be unrecoverable as well. In some states there are legal limitations on what can be provided to a birth mother who intends to place a baby, but unfortunately the laws in our state are very liberal in this area and have virtually no limitations.

With our willingness to bend, we were able to successfully complete the adoption. There were several points along the way that we were afraid we were going to lose the opportunity to adopt the baby and looking back, it is nothing short of miraculous that it all worked out the way it did. We realized in the end, the value of the adoption agency probably would have been worth the added expense. We did save money on the cost of the adoption, but it took an emotional toll on us and our family and required a lot of work that we had not planned on.

By the end of the adoption, our lawyer now had a new, “Most expensive adoption.” The fees added up as they helped us navigate the situations that we dealt with daily. Be aware that your lawyer is not your friend. When you call them up to chat about a situation, they are billing you.
Between the added legal expenses and the added living expenses for the birth mother, our do it yourself adoption ended up costing just a little over $30,000. Yes, we saved some money, but it was a far cry from the budget we had started with. In the end, we had an amazing outcome. We walked out of the hospital with a healthy baby boy that has been a source of joy in our family ever since. While we would change some aspects of it if we could, the outcome was well worth the struggle we went through to get him into our home.

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