Your Adoption Options

Your Adoption Options

Your Adoption Options

There are as many paths to adoption as there are children waiting for parents. You can get your adoption journey off to a good start by first learning about the different types of adoption, and then moving into a more specific exploration of the best fit for your family.

Adoption is most broadly classified as either domestic (within the U.S.) or international (outside the U.S.), both of which have unique costs and challenges as well as joys and benefits. Within those broad classifications are multiple sub-categories of adoption that can guide prospective adoptive parents in the earliest stages of the adoption process.

The Marcus family of Fairport, NY, adopted their daughter Grace domestically and their daughter Zoe from China. Katherine Marcus says people often ask why they did both. Her response? “Honestly—we knew adoption was in our future but our domestic adoption came to us and when it did we opened our arms to the journey. The journey the second time was taken by three of us and we felt the organized structure of international adoption suited our family best.”

Let's start by comparing domestic and international adoption on the variable of cost, eligibility, wait time, medical and social history, and legal issues.


Many people mistakenly believe that international adoption is less expensive than domestic adoption. However, according to the National Council for Adoption, the costs associated with either type of adoption average $15,000-$25,000, depending on agency fees, travel costs, and birth mother medical expenses. International adoption requires adoptive parents to travel to the child's country of origin at least once (often two or three times) and remain there for a week or more each visit. Parents who adopt out-of-state are usually required to travel to the baby's birth state and remain there for a specific period of time, anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.

The Holley family of Webster, NY, found their trip to China to adopt their daughter Anna extremely important. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to immerse ourselves in Chinese culture”, said Anna's mother, Mary Holley. “We came home with wonderful memories and a deep appreciation of Anna's home country.”


Parental eligibility is more restrictive in international adoption than domestic. Most countries have a maximum age cut-off for prospective adoptive parents, and many will not allow adoption by single parents or same-sex couples. Domestic adoption agencies set their own eligibility requirements, and many do not limit adoption by age, marital status, or sexual orientation of the prospective parents.

Wait time

Wait time is a function of parent parameters and politics. Domestically, prospective adoptive parents identify a profile of the type of child they think would be the best fit for them, for example, an African American infant or a Caucasian toddler with special needs. The more restrictive parents are, the longer they may wait for a match. Parents adopting internationally do not have an opportunity to specify any parameters. In the U.S., wait time is mostly dependent on the number of children being placed for adoption. According to the National Council for Adoption approximately 25,000 U.S.-born children are placed for adoption each year. In other countries, governments sometimes deliberately slow down the pace of adoptions, in response to unfavorable publicity about large numbers of infants being placed for adoption. The wait time for either type of adoption ranges from a few months (rare) to three years, occasionally longer.

Medical and social history

Parents who adopt internationally may receive very little information about their child's medical and social history. Many children are left anonymously at orphanages and hospitals, and it is impossible to compile accurate histories. “We didn't know much about Anna before we brought her home,” said Holley. “We knew we belonged together, so we trusted that everything would work out.” Birth parents who place a child for adoption within the U.S. Are required to complete medical and social history forms, which are usually given to the adoptive parents at the time of the adoption.

Legal issues

Some people consider international adoption “safer”, because it's almost impossible for birth parents to reverse and adoption. The truth is that once a domestic adoption is finalized by the court, it is legally binding, forever. The adoptive parents are the legal parents, and no one can undo that. A qualified adoption attorney can discuss specific details with prospective parents.

Once the decision is made to adopt either domestically or internationally, prospective adoptive parents need to consider what type of child they are best equipped to parent. For example, a newborn, toddler, or older child; a sibling group; a child with special needs; a child of a different race (transracial adoption); a child in foster care, etc.

International adoptions are handled through adoption agencies; domestic adoptions can be completed either privately or through an agency. A private adoption is one that is arranged between a birth mother and prospective parents. Private adoption generally costs less because there are no agency fees. Also, adoptive parents often have more opportunity to get to know the birth parents ahead of time. An advantage of working with an adoption agency is that agencies network with birth mothers all over the country, which increases the chances of a successful match between birth parents and adoptive parents.

Although it costs more to adopt through an agency, agency staff are expert at what they do, and can be very helpful in coordinating paperwork, legal clearances, advertising, home studies, and emotional support while waiting for an adoption match. Katherine Marcus has experienced the benefits of working with an agency. “For our first/domestic adoption in 2000 we used an agency to help us complete our home study”, said Marcus. “Our adoption attorney helped us with all legal matters, paperwork, and interstate contracts. Since we were familiar and happy with the agency we had used in 2000 we returned to them to help us complete our international adoption starting in October of 2004 and ending in April of 2006.”

Another vital issue to consider is the degree of openness adoptive parents are comfortable with. Open adoption can be anything from sending pictures and a letter to a birth mother once a year to integrating birth parents into the daily life of the adoptive family. Many birth mothers favor some degree of openness, even if only to choose the parents who will adopt their child. The most important thing about degree of openness is that it is the right fit for both adoptive parents and birth parents. The Marcus' were able to meet Grace's birth parents and some extended family prior to her birth. “When the time is right and if it is our daughter's wish we look forward to another connection. Sadly we do not have any birthparent information for our youngest daughter. We do however have every intention of returning to her birth country and reconnecting with a country and those individuals who took such loving care of her during her earliest months.”

The Rochester-area is ripe with adoption resources, and prospective adoptive parents should have no trouble finding attorneys, social workers, support groups, mentors, and cultural enrichment opportunities for their adoption journey. Both the Holley and Marcus families joined the local chapter of Families With Children From China (FCC) and found a lot of support from other families adopting from China. See the sidebar for more local and national resources.

“I'm not sure that I could ever put into words how adoption has affected my life. I suppose it is like defining the concept of love. There are so many facets to it, so many shades of color. Adoption has been wondrous and terrifying, energizing and exhausting, filled with structure and utter chaos. In all, it's been life—and we wouldn't change it for the world.” Katherine Marcus


Resources for prospective adoptive parents:

Key questions to ask:

  • What type of adoption do you specialize in?

  • What is your average number of placements per year?

  • What are the standard expenses associated with adopting through your agency?

  • What pre- and post-adoption support do you provide to adoptive families?

  • What are your eligibility requirements?

  • What is your philosophy on openness in adoption?

  • What are the travel requirements for adopting from another country?

  • What is the average wait time for a child?

  • When does our application expire?

  • When does the home study expire?

  • Who can we call with additional questions?

  • What steps do you take to ensure confidentiality?

Originally published in the November 2009 issue of Genesee Valley Parent magazine. Copyright 2009 Sally Bacchetta. All rights reserved.