Cracks in the Cost Structure of Agency Adoption

Author:Andrea B. Carroll
Position:C.E. Laborde, Jr. Professor of Law, Louisiana State University, Paul M. Hebert Law Center

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It is no longer a secret. Domestic adoption is big business.1―Baby selling‖ has long been vilified and remains unlawful.2However, a close examination of the cash that changes hands in the garden-variety domestic adoption would make it difficult for most people to tell the difference.3

Prospective adoptive parents pay agencies and lawyers exceptional sums to identify and locate birth parents that are willing to relinquish their parental rights.4Hospital and delivery charges, often not covered by private

Copyright © 2011, Andrea B. Carroll.

 C.E. Laborde, Jr. Professor of Law, Louisiana State University, Paul M. Hebert Law Center. I thank the Capital University Law Review for the opportunity to present an earlier version of this piece at its 6th Annual Wells Conference on Adoption Law. Laura Pryor and Katie Rittiner (LSU Law Center Class of 2011) provided excellent research assistance.

1Sandra Patton-Imani, Redefining the Ethics of Adoption, Race, Gender, and Class, 36 LAW & SOC‘Y REV., 813, 827 (2002).

2See Tamar Lewin, At Core of Adoption Dispute Is Crazy Quilt of State Laws, N.Y.

TIMES, Jan. 19, 2001, at A14; U.S. Embassy Report Faults Vietnam’s Oversight of Adoptions, N.Y. TIMES, Apr. 26, 2008, at A7; see also In re Adoption of Stephen, 645 N.Y.S.2d 1012, 1014 (N.Y. Fam. Ct. 1996); Sale of Children in Interstate and Foreign Commerce: Hearings Before the Subcomm. on Criminal Justice of the Comm. on the Judiciary H. of Reps., 95th Cong. (1977), available at files/4e.pdf [hereinafter Hearings].

3See generally Douglas H. Reiniger, Ethical Considerations in Representing Birth Parents: Regulation of Adoption Expenses, in ADOPTION LAW INSTITUTE 2007, at 183 (PLI

Litig. & Admin. Practice, Course Handbook Ser. No. C-211, 2007); Commentary, End Baby Commerce, GAMBIT WEEKLY, June 10, 1999, at 7.

4See Laura Mansnerus, Market Puts Price Tags on the Priceless: In Search of a Child: The Baby Bazaar, N.Y. TIMES, Oct. 26, 1998, at A1 (explaining that adoption costs can range from $5,000 to $100,000). State laws generally permit agencies to charge service fees for each adoption they facilitate. See ALA. CODE § 26-10-4.1(a) (LexisNexis 2009);

DEL. CODE ANN. tit. 13, § 928(b) (2009); D.C. CODE § 4-1410 (2008); 720 ILL. COMP. STAT.

ANN. 525/1 (West 2010); KAN. STAT. ANN. § 59-2121(a)(1) (2005); KY. REV. STAT. ANN.

§ 199.590(2) (West 2006); LA. CHILD. CODE ANN. art. 1200(B) (2004); MD. CODE ANN.,

FAM. LAW § 5-362(b)(2) (LexisNexis 2006); NEV. REV. STAT. ANN. § 127.275(1)

(LexisNexis 2010); N.H. REV. STAT. ANN. § 170-B:13(1) (LexisNexis 2010); N.J. STAT.

ANN. § 9:3-39.1(e) (West 2002); N.M. STAT. ANN. § 32A-5-34(B) (2003); N.Y. SOC. SERV. (continued)

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insurance or Medicaid, are borne by families seeking to adopt.5

Prospective adoptive parents almost always cover fees for mental health counseling to birth mothers.6Travel and incidental costs frequently amount to thousands of dollars.7Legal representation for both the adoptive and birth parents to finalize the placement costs a substantial sum.8In short, the expense of a domestic agency adoption can decimate a family budget.9

Moreover, parents desiring to build their families through adoption are almost assured a long haul. Healthy, white infants are adopted so frequently that parents seeking such a child often wait years before finally becoming parents through an agency adoption.10Still, there is no overage

LAW § 374(6) (McKinney 2010); N.C. GEN. STAT. ANN. § 48-10-103(e) (2009); OHIO REV.

CODE ANN. § 3107.055(C) (West 2005 & Supp. 2010); OKLA. STAT. ANN. tit. 10, § 7505-3.2 (West 2009); 23 PA. CONS. STAT. ANN. § 2533(d) (West 2010); S.C. CODE ANN. § 63-9-310(F) (2010); VT. STAT. ANN. tit. 15A, § 7-104 (2002); VA. CODE ANN. § 63.2-1218

(2007); W. VA. CODE ANN. § 48-22-803(e) (LexisNexis 2009). An attorney may be paid additional fees by the adoptive family for services in connection with an adoption. See ARIZ. REV. STAT. ANN. § 8-114(D) (2007); COLO. REV. STAT. § 19-5-213(1)(a) (2010); FLA.

STAT. ANN. § 63.097(2)(f)(1) (West 2005); LA. CH. CODE ANN. art. 1200(B)(8) (2004); MISS. CODE ANN. § 43-15-23(4) (2009); N.H. REV. STAT. ANN. § 170-B:13(1) (LexisNexis 2010); N.C. GEN. STAT. ANN. § 48-10-103(a) (West 2009); N.D. CENT. CODE § 14-15-10(1)

(2009); OHIO REV. CODE ANN. § 3107.055(C) (West 2005 & Supp. 2010); 23 PA. CONS.

STAT. ANN. § 2533(d) (West 2010); S.C. CODE ANN. § 63-9-310(F) (2010); TENN. CODE

ANN. § 36-1-109(a)(1)(B)(i) (2010); UTAH CODE ANN. § 76-7-203(1)(a) (LexisNexis 2008);
W. VA. CODE ANN. § 48-22-803(e) (LexisNexis 2009); WIS. STAT. ANN. § 48.913(1) (West 2008 & Supp. 2010).

52 AM. JUR. 2D Adoption § 57 (2004); UNIF. ADOPTION ACT § 7-103(a)(3), 9 U.L.A. 126


6See UNIF. ADOPTION ACT § 7-103(a)(4), 9 U.L.A. 126; see also Adoption of Stephen, 645 N.Y.S.2d at 1015 (finding that payment of counseling expenses was proper and reasonable).

7See, e.g., Adoption of Stephen, 645 N.Y.S.2d at 1014.

8Reiniger, supra note 3, at 188; see also Katy Ruth Klinke, Note, The Baby M Controversy: A Class Distinction, 18 OKLA. CITY U. L. REV. 113, 148 (1993) (discussing a

lawyer who received $184,000 for arranging surrogacy contracts in 1983).

9Fronting tens of thousands of dollars in costs for an adoption can be difficult or impossible, even for families who can reasonably support an adopted child. See Klinke, supra note 8, at 148; Lewin, supra note 2, at A14. The cost of raising a child is borne over a lengthy period. Adoption expenses, however, often rival an average American family‘s annual income. See Klinke, supra note 8, at 148; Lewin, supra note 2, at A14.

10Mansnerus, supra note 4, at A1.

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of infants available for adoption in this country.11Infants do not typically wait to find suitable adoptive parents.12Quite the contrary. This state of affairs is deceptive because it creates an inappropriate level of societal comfort with America‘s private adoption system. If parents wanting to adopt will pay whatever is required, and most babies in need of adoption find adoptive homes, then what is the problem? Does the cost structure of the domestic adoption scheme need to be modified at all?

This article argues that private adoption, viewed purely from an economic standpoint, is broken. A near free market has taken hold.13And

that free market substantially prejudices prospective adoptive parents.14

Children are being adopted, but adoption needs to be less costly. Legislatures should act to cap adoption expenses, provide remedies for prospective adoptive parents in failed adoptions, and offer better tax incentives to prospective adoptive parents. A more active regulation of the agency-adoption market would aid prospective adoptive parents, likely spur more Americans to adopt, and thereby, increase the likelihood of a positive adoption outcome for adoptees.


The purchase and sale of children today remains, as it has for many years, unlawful in every American state.15Many states regulate the sale of

11Id. at A16.


13See Elisabeth M. Landes & Richard A. Posner, The Economics of the Baby Shortage, 7 J. LEGAL STUD. 323, 324 (1978) (arguing, controversially, that an experimental move toward a free market in adoption would serve to rectify the supply and demand mismatch plaguing the system); Richard A. Posner, The Regulation of the Market in Adoptions, 67 B.U. L. REV. 59, 71 (1987) (arguing, nearly ten years after the ―Baby Shortage‖ piece, that legal schemes allowing the payment of substantial sums to birth mothers are really sales in disguise).

14See Landes & Posner, supra note 13, at 71.


AGENCIES: A STUDY OF INDEPENDENT ADOPTIONS 182 (1978); Vanessa S. Browne-Barbour,

Bartering for Babies: Are Preconception Agreements in the Best Interests of Children?, 26 WHITTIER L. REV. 429, 473 (2004). Criminal statutes punish the practice in thirty-three

states. See ALA. CODE § 26-10A-34 (LexisNexis 2009); CAL. PENAL CODE § 273(a) (West 2008); COLO. REV. STAT. § 19-5-213(1)–(2) (2010); FLA. STAT. ANN. § 63.212(1)(c) (West 2005 & Supp. 2010); GA. CODE ANN. § 19-8-24 (2010); IDAHO CODE ANN. § 18-1511

(2004); IND. CODE ANN. § 35-46-1-9(a) (West 2004); IOWA CODE ANN. § 600.9(1)(c) (West 2001 & Supp. 2010); KY. REV. STAT. ANN. § 199.493 (West 2006); LA. REV. STAT. ANN.


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§ 14:286 (2004); MD. CODE ANN., CRIM. LAW § 3-603 (LexisNexis 2002); MASS. GEN.

LAWS ANN. ch. 210, § 11A (West 2007 & Supp. 2010); MICH. COMP. LAWS ANN.

§ 710.54(1) (West 2002); MINN. STAT. ANN. § 259.55 (West 2007); MISS. CODE ANN. § 43-15-23 (2009); MO. ANN. STAT. § 568.175(1) (West 1999); MONT. CODE ANN. § 42-7-105(3)

(2009); NEV. REV. STAT. ANN. §§ 127.287–288 (LexisNexis 2010); N.J. STAT. ANN. § 9:3-39.1(d) (West 2002); N.Y. SOC. SERV. LAW §§ 374(6), 389(2) (McKinney 2010); N.C. GEN.

STAT. ANN. § 48-10-102 (2009); N.D. CENT. CODE § 12.1-31-05 (1997 & Supp. 2009); OKLA. STAT. ANN. tit. 21, § 866 (West 2002); 18 PA. CONS. STAT. ANN. § 4305 (West 1983); S.C. CODE ANN. § 16-3-1060 (2003)...

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