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How to choose between domestic and international adoption

Reaching the decision to adopt is usually a long and emotional journey, yet the journey does not stop there. After you decide that you want to adopt, the next question you need to answer before you can start the process is, “domestic or international adoption?”

Answering this question is not a simple process. It will take a great deal of discussion and soul-searching for you and your partner to reach a conclusion. There are many sub-questions under the umbrella of domestic versus international adoption that you and your spouse need to answer before making a final decision.

How old do you want your child to be?

The age of the child you want to adopt will be a big factor in whether you choose domestic or international adoption. If you want to adopt a newborn, you have to choose domestic adoption. If you are comfortable adopting an older infant or toddler who has been in group care for a few months, then international is the better choice than private domestic adoption. Domestic adoption of an older child usually means adopting out of the foster care system.

How quickly do you want to adopt?

The timeline for domestic and international adoption varies. I know that every couple is very anxious to start their family, but you have to decide how high of a priority speed is on your adoption checklist. International adoption can provide a steadier timeframe, yet there are many outside factors completely out of your control that could change the timeline. Laws, political and economic climates and sentiments toward the United States can throw timelines off, even when your application is in process.

Domestic adoption is slightly more unpredictable because the timeline depends on when you are chosen by a birth mother and how far along she is in her pregnancy before you can bring your baby home. Yet if you partner with excellent adoption professionals, you can create a high-quality profile that is quickly placed in front of birth mothers to speed along the process. With the right group of professionals, domestic adoptions can often be completed in a few months.

How much does domestic and international adoption cost?

One type of adoption is not generally more expensive than the other. The price tag of adoption depends on the individual situation. Domestic adoption can range from $0 for adopting from foster care, to between $20,000 and $45,000+ for adopting a newborn through an agency or attorney. International adoption ranges between $15,000 and $50,000. The price margin is so wide because it depends on the country you adopt from and the travel requirements of that country. Unfortunately, there are financial risks in both cases. Internationally, there are country hiccups that could raise the price tag. Domestically, a failed adoption could still incur legal fees and birth mother expenses.

How different is the process between domestic and international adoption?

For international adoption, you are put on a waiting list where you slowly rise to the top. Domestic adoption requires you to create a profile showcasing who you are as a family. This profile is shown to prospective birth mothers. One can select you at any time during the process. However, creating a strong profile will increase your chance of getting the attention of the right birth mother and getting selected more quickly.

How much do you want to know about the birth family?

With domestic adoption, you would often have extensive medical and social histories on the birth mother and, sometimes, the birth father. If that is important to you, domestic is the way to go. International adoption usually can only provide information on the health of the child him/herself, but rarely is there extensive information on the medical and social history of the birth parents.

How much contact do you want to have with the birth mother?

Before you can answer this question, you must separate fact from fiction. Many couples want to choose international adoption because they want zero contact with the birth family. However, many international countries are beginning to support more open adoptions. So international no longer automatically means closed.

It is true that most domestic adoptions have some sort of openness, meaning that the birth mother receives some kind of regular update on the child’s life. The birth and adoptive families may even have direct contact depending on everyone’s comfort level and desires.

The fear that pre-adoptive families often have is that the birth mother is going to show up on their doorstep and want the child back, but this is based on outdated myths. Most open adoptions involve the family sending letters and photos to the adoption agency who in turn sends them to the birth mother, unless all parties have agreed on more direct contact. These updates reassure her that she made the right decision; they don’t make her suddenly want to parent her child. And even if she did find a way to your figurative doorstep, the adoption process is set up in such a way that she cannot regain custody of her child once her parental rights have been terminated.

These are some of the questions you need to ask yourself and learn about domestic and international adoption before you can choose a path that is right for you. It’s imperative to be open and honest with your partner to ensure your grow your family in a way you both support.

Nicole Witt

Nicole Witt is the owner of The Adoption Consultancy, an unbiased resource serving pre-adoptive families by providing them with the education, information and guidance they need to safely adopt a newborn, usually within three to 12 months. She is also the creator of Beyond Infertility, a community support site and online magazine geared towards families who have gone through infertility. You can visit that website at Beyond Infertility.

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