One of the most confusing decisions in infant adoption is whether to use an adoption agency or an adoption attorney. Information on the Internet often feels biased or sponsored by one or the other, and it can be overwhelming to figure out the objective facts. Trust us, it’s not just you. Many prospective parents new to adoption are overwhelmed by their search results. The good news is that we can help you parse through the information and understand the common differences between adopting through an adoption agency or an adoption attorney.

The Struggle is in the Variation

While there are many differences in the experiences of adopting through an adoption agency and an adoption attorney (also commonly called independent adoption), making hard and fast distinctions between them can still be challenging. There are significant variations between adoption agencies and amongst adoption lawyers, mainly because state laws vary significantly.

Some of the agencies you interview will provide limited or expanded services or resources compared to other infant adoption agencies. Similarly, one adoption attorney might provide comprehensive services, and another will not.

However, there are still some general distinctions to consider. These differences apply to the typical, not the exceptions.

Ten Differences Between an Adoption Agency and an Adoption Lawyer

1. The Prospective Parents’ Role in Finding a Match

Typically, in an independent adoption, prospective parents actively search for an expectant mother seeking to place a child for adoption. This can be done through networking, advertising, or the Internet. While adoptive parents may choose to do this in an adoption agency adoption, they may also have the option of having the adoption agency do this for them.

2. The Placement of the Baby

In some states (and in some circumstances), a newborn infant who will be adopted through an adoption agency must go to a foster home before being placed with their adoptive parents. (This is not always the case.)

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3. The Types of Adoption Handled

Adoption agencies can handle all three types of adoption: domestic infant, international, and foster care adoption. Some agencies can do all three at the same agency. Adoption attorneys usually only handle independent domestic infant adoptions through birth-parent relinquishment.

4. The Search for Expectant Women

Not all states allow adoption lawyers to help prospective adoptive parents search for and screen pregnant women considering placing their child for adoption.

5. The Expectant Woman’s Choice

A pregnant woman seeking to place her baby usually selects the hopeful adoptive family in both adoption agency adoption and independent adoption attorney adoption. However, sometimes in an agency adoption, the agency will choose when an expectant or birth mother doesn’t want to select. This happens far more rarely in adoptions through adoption lawyers.

6. The Restrictions for Approving Adoptive Parents

Typically, adoption attorneys will have fewer restrictions for the adoptive parents they work with. Rules about age, marital status, sexual orientation, number of divorces, or religion will depend upon the agency’s policies and mission. Not all agencies have restrictions though some faith-oriented agencies will have specific parameters. Most agencies clearly state their rules and restrictions on their websites.

7. The Pre-Adoption Preparation

Adoption lawyers often do not have and do not require the same level of pre-adoption education that most adoption agencies require. As an education-focused organization, believes that all prospective adoptive parents deserve and need to be well-educated on the issues surrounding the adoption process and how to raise an adopted child before they bring a baby home.

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8. The Counseling for Expectant Parents

Most adoption agencies provide at least some pre-placement counseling to the expectant woman and the father. Some even offer resources to the extended family throughout the pregnancy and after the adoption. In contrast, few adoption lawyers provide counseling as part of their services. However, they should be able to provide referrals or recommendations for counseling to an expectant woman (and her partner if applicable) and bill the adoptive parents.

9. The Post-Adoption Support

Most adoption attorneys do not provide ongoing support for adoptive families after the adoption has been finalized. Some can provide recommendations or referrals to adoption-competent therapists or other resources when asked. Not all adoption agencies have complete post-adoption services, but enough of them now offer it, and hopeful parents can make an informed choice of an agency that does.

10. The Fees and Expenses of An Adoption

It is possible to find an adoption agency that charges for adoption services on a sliding fee scale or does not charge the birth mother’s medical expenses directly to the adoptive family, thus saving the adoptive family money. These payment options are seldom available with independent adoptions via an adoption attorney. The average cost, however, for adoptions is about the same regardless of whether you adopt through an adoption agency or lawyer.

Take Your Time and Educate Yourself.

There is so much information out there about adoption agencies and adoption attorneys! Take a deep breath and take some time to equip yourself with reliable information that will empower you to make the right decision for growing your family. Recommendations and word-of-mouth can be powerful tools for finding a provider that fits your needs and intentions. And has many resources to help you learn and prepare for the process and the precious little one you will bring home.

Image Credits: Thirdman; Edmond Dantès; Mike Jones