The Adoption Option: Understanding The Differences And The Process

My wife and I participated in a domestic adoption panel and open forum yesterday. We received several questions regarding cost and ways to go about adopting. This post answers both. Mixed in is a little bit of our story.
Photo courtesy of Alex Holt Photography @2011

Photo courtesy of Alex Holt Photography @2011

I didn’t want to adopt children. At least, that’s what I thought 15 years ago when I first met my wife.

The year was 1998 and I was a 22-year old college kid with peach fuzz on my face, and a head full of dreams sitting on my shoulders. I remember very clearly the night Kristin told me, as we sat in my car in front of our college campus library, that, “We were going to adopt our children.” I disagreed sternly.

It wasn’t that I was against adoption. I just didn’t understand it. I came from a family where every kid grew up, went to college, found a husband or wife, and created little people who looked like them. I was just responding from my environment.

Fortunately, my heart changed. My perspective did as well. Today, I love adoption. I’m a huge fan. We began the process in 2001, working first with Families Through International Adoption, and then moving exclusively into domestic adoption, working with Adoption Support Center  in Indianapolis.

In April 2002 we brought our daughter Jaala home. Then, between June 2004 and May 2012, we adopted our other 7 children, 2 through private adoptions, and 6 through foster care. We have learned many lessons over the past 11 years of our adoption journey. The biggest realization is that the world really doesn’t understand adoption.

Along with my heart change, I gained an understanding of what adoption really was. In my heart, that was a bigger issue than I would have acknowledged 15 years ago. I was resistant because I didn’t understand it.

That’s true for our culture as well. Up until a decade ago, the world saw adoption as something only couples with fertility issues, or extremely wealthy couples did. It was not the sort of thing the average middle class family, with or without fertility issues, or a normal bank account did.

Now, thanks to public adoptions by celebrities like Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and Sandra Bullock, and movies like Juno and The Odd Life Of Timothy Green, it’s more of a cultural norm and the world is becoming familiar with it. But, familiarity and understanding are very different.

So, what are the different types of adoption? What should a couple know before they begin the process? How will they know which option is right for them? What are the costs associated with each? What emotions will couples experience through this process?

Michele Tiek works with an organization called The Jeremiah 2911 Project, which is a non-profit organization formed to financially assist families with adoption. She shares, “Anytime a new child comes into a home, there is great joy! We are so thankful for the way that God brought each of our children into our home and for their unique journey.”

I would echo her words based on our own experience. There is great joy when your child arrives home. But, there are also trials. Couples or families can expect a healthy dose of both.

In deciding which option is best for a couple or family, here are the 3 main options for adoption:

Domestic Adoption:

By definition, this is any adoption that takes places within the country you live in. The average cost for this option is $17,000-$25,000 if you work with an agency. This includes birth mother living expenses, home study fees, lawyer costs, and a few other miscellaneous costs. It really comes down to which agency you work with or even if you work with an agency. Couples or families may choose to do a private adoption with just a lawyer. This will save on cost but there is more risk.

This process is usually faster than international adoption or foster-to-adopt, averaging anywhere from 4-12 months turnaround time, from the beginning of the process to placement. Children are usually placed at birth.

International Adoption:

By definition, this is any adoption that takes place outside of the country you live in. The most well-known countries that folks adopt from are China, Russia, and the Ukraine. However, there are many other countries that are open to this process. The average cost is around $25,000-$50,000, which goes toward travel expenses, various agency fees, specific country expenses, home study costs, and travel.

On average, it can take anywhere from 12 months to 4 years. Each country is different when it comes to the types and ages of children that are available for adoption.


By definition this is any adoption that happens as a result of working with the foster care system. Couples or families who choose this option must go through foster care training and then indicate their desire to be a foster-to-adopt home. This option can be a very long and drawn out process. On average it takes anywhere from 2-4 years to finalize an adoption through this option. There are little to no costs associated with this option.

The Legal Side:

Along with understanding the options, couples or families need to be aware of the legal side of the adoption process. In all 3 options, couples or families will work with a lawyer or a legal team. Many adoption agencies have designated lawyers, or law firms, whom they work with regularly

In speaking of specific adoption law, Michelle Jackson, chair of Adoption & Reproductive Law Practice Group shares, “Always use a licensed agency that is licensed in your state and has Hague Approval. Be patient – international adoption involves state, federal, foreign and international laws and typically 4-7 different governmental agencies. It is a difficult and complicated process.”

Taking The Next Step:

The biggest question that most couples or families considering adoption ask is, “What’s next?” What are the next steps in this process? The decision to choose one option over the other really comes down to family make up, lifestyle, and financial ability. I recommend meeting with people who have gone through the specific process you are considering.

Ask lots of questions, and spend time researching everything online. Don’t rush into anything. Take your time. This is a life-long decision. But, it’s a decision with enormous blessing!

Question: Adoptive parents- what else would you add to this post? Pre-adoptive parents- what other questions do you have? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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