Domestic or International Adoption – Which is Right for You?

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Once you make the decision to adopt a child, your next step is to consider the differences between domestic and international adoption. This must be done at an early stage in the process because it dictates how to get started. Both are great options, but they have very different procedures and requirements. Your choice should be guided by your individual preferences about important issues including, time, costs, travel requirements, legal risks, and health issues. Here are some factors to consider when choosing between international and domestic adoption:

Interactions with the Birth Family and Future Involvement

Very few domestic adoptions end up being completely closed. Most are now semi-open with some communication between the birth mother and prospective parents during pregnancy and a continuing expectation of sending photos and updates to the agency to be passed along to the birth mother for the duration of the child’s life.

If being involved with the birth family is a concern, then international adoption rarely has any interaction between birth mothers and prospective/adoptive parents. In this situation, international adoption may be the best route for you.

Many fear that the birth mother will show up unannounced and want the child returned to her. While a birth mother has no legal rights to the child once her parental rights are terminated and adoption is finalized, this still causes concern because this type of behavior could be disruptive and emotionally challenging for all involved. Take note that this rarely occurs. Most birth mothers are at peace with their decision and have no intentions of causing disruptions.

Age of the Child

If you hope to adopt a newborn, you must adopt domestically. In international adoptions, the child will most likely be 1 to 2 years old. The average age is 2. Older children and sibling sets are available with both domestic and international adoptions.

Expenses Associated with Adoption

The average expenditure for a domestic adoption range between $20,000-$30,000. International adoptions vary by country and the average cost falls between $25,000-$50,000. While those averages fall closely in line with one another, the costs driving the overall fee varies greatly between domestic and international adoptions.

Domestic adoptions require some expenses to go towards the birth mother’s pregnancy, labor and delivery, and sometimes even living costs. International adoptions do not expect the prospective parents to contribute to those types of expenses.

International adoptive parents will pay visa and travel fees. Some countries require multiple visits ranging from a few days to a few weeks. These travel costs are often unpredictable in the beginning stages of the adoption process.

Domestic adoption may also involve travel expenses as the prospective parents will need to travel to the birth mother’s location for the birth of the baby and stay until the baby is released from the hospital. If the baby is located outside of the adoptive parent’s home state, the family will need to stay in the state where the baby is born until an Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) is completed. This federally required assessment typically takes 7-10 business days.

Keep in mind there are also some financial risks associated with either domestic or international adoptions. The total amount due and when the payments are due are more predictable with international adoptions. Risks with domestic adoptions include paying for birth mother expenses and legal fees up front and then the adoption falls through. Most of the time there is no legal recourse for reimbursement in this situation.

Risks with international adoptions include political issues that result in the country delaying or discontinuing adoptions even if they are in process. For example, Ethiopia and Russia were two of the primary countries from which US parents chose to adopt and neither of those are open for international adoption by US citizens currently.

Demographics/Rules and Requirements

Domestic adoptions across various states remain similar in their legal requirements and process. You must be a single or married adult, complete a satisfactory home study and be within the age limits required by your state.

In an international adoption, eligibility will depend on the country you choose. Because of the Intercountry Adoption Universal Accreditation Act of 2012 (UAA), your international adoption agency must be Hague-compliant, even if the country you are adopting from is not. This ensures all agencies are held to the same federal standards and protects the children as well as those seeking to adopt from other countries.

Each country has its own set of requirements such as age of parents, marital status, length of marriage, limits on prior divorces and restrictions surrounding LBGTQ adoptions. Many agencies only work with certain countries so you must select the country that interests you and then select the agency that works well within that country. The agency will be able to educate you on the specific rules and requirements for adopting in that particular country.

Time Frame

The estimated wait times for most domestic adoptions range between 1-12 months. Many factors contribute to this wait time including:

  • Advertising efforts and reach of the adoption agency.
  • Family’s preferences (age, race, medical conditions, etc.).

The wait times for international adoptions depend on the specificity of the adoption plan as well as country-specific issues and whether that country currently has a good relationship with the United States. Currently, the five most popular countries for adoption by U.S. parents are South Korea, China, India, Colombia and Haiti. Take note that for China and India, the children will likely have mild to complex special needs.

Once you weigh out the factors and decide whether domestic or international adoption is the best fit for you, you will need to choose the appropriate adoption professional.

Domestic: The main concern with choosing a domestic adoption professional is that they are knowledgeable of your state’s laws, experienced and able to provide superior assistance with advertising, matching, screening and counseling.

International: The agency you choose must be Hague-compliant regardless of the country’s status. Do the research to ensure that the agency you select works extensively with your country of choice.

Making the Best Choice

Often it can be helpful to begin the adoption process by consulting with an experienced adoption attorney. The reality is that there are a myriad of adoption options, and a wise first step is to invest in an adoption consultation with a neutral adoption professional to gain insight into adoption as a whole. The purpose of the consultation is to evaluate your individual preferences and use those preferences to guide your selection from among the various options. We can discuss all of the issues mentioned here and more to make sure your adoption gets started off on the right track – whether it becomes a domestic adoption or an international one. Contact Mills Adoption Law for more information or to set up an initial adoption consultation.

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