Even as a civilian, the adoption process can be long, hard and expensive. It’s costly and complicated for anyone who wants to adopt a child. But sometimes, life in the military can add an extra layer of challenges.
The series of procedural steps to take and hoops to jump through on the way to adoption isn’t significantly different for military families than it is for civilians. But the government is aware of the issues that can arise for service members who want to adopt but don’t always know where and when they’ll be deployed or relocated, or how they’ll be able to afford the process.
That last bit is especially important. According to the federal government’s Child Welfare Information Gateway, adopting a child through a private agency can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $45,000, depending on the state. But other resources suggest adoption is considerably more expensive than that, with an average cost in the U.S. of about $70,000 through a private agency.
The support the Defense Department offers is designed not only to help members of the military maneuver through adoption’s red tape and beyond, but also to help cover some of the expenses.
The Defense Department’s aid programs make financial support available for eligible active service members who want to adopt a child or children under the age of 18, providing assistance with adoption costs and medical benefits through tax credits and adoption grants.
Military Adoption Qualifications & Eligibility
There are, of course, some limits to the aid and who is entitled to get it. Among the requirements are:
- The service member must have been on active duty for at least six months (180 days).
- The adoption process must be finalized before the service member leaves active duty.
- Service members must submit the expense claims before they are discharged from active duty. If they do, they are still eligible to be reimbursed by the Defense Finance and Accounting Center (DFAS) even after active duty ends.
- Only one parent can be reimbursed for the adoption expenses of the same child, even if both adoptive parents are active-duty service members.
- The claims must be submitted within two years of the completion of the adoption process, although exceptions to that rule can be made if deployment interferes with the two-year deadline.
The adoption itself is also subject to a number of qualifications that affect a service member’s eligibility for financial aid, including:
- The child or children being adopted must be under the age of 18.
- A qualified agency must arrange the adoption. That means a military family must work either through an adoption agency approved for child placement by state or local law, a nonprofit voluntary agency authorized by the state or local law to place children for adoption, or any other adoption placement agency authorized by the state as long as the adoption is supervised by a state or local court.
- If a private or step-child adoption isn’t arranged by a qualified state or local agency or court, it must be finalized in a U.S. court.
- An adoption arranged by a foreign adoption agency won’t qualify for financial aid from the military unless it operates under the control of a qualified U.S. state or federal agency.
The expenses that can be reimbursed also must meet the requirements of the government’s financial aid packages.
Expenses that qualify for reimbursement include:
- The adoption agency fees whether the agency is public or private
- Placement fees (including counseling fees)
- Legal fees such as court costs if they aren’t available from the military’s legal assistance program
- Medical expenses including hospital charges for a to-be-adopted newborn infant.
An adopting parent’s travel expenses during the adoption process don’t qualify for reimbursement. Neither does the cost of the adopted child’s basic needs such as bedding, toys and clothes, nor any adoption expenses incurred in violation of local, state or federal law.
Military Adoption Benefits
The Defense Department offers a number of ways an active-duty service member can get financial assistance with adoption. They include:
- Reimbursements for certain expenses
- Tax credits
- Grants through A Child Waits foundation to cover some of the fees and travel expenses related to adoption
- Help Us Adopt grants that can reach $20,000.
Military Adoption Reimbursement
For each adopted child, service members can be reimbursed up to $2,000 per year before the child turns 18. That money can help defray some of the fees charged by the adoption agency for the services it provides in acting as an intermediary between the birth parents and the adoptive parents.
It can be applied, too, to placement fees when there is no such intermediary but the adoptive parents nonetheless incur legal costs and charges from social workers, counselors and other independent contractors during the course of the adoption.
Military members can also be reimbursed for the medical/hospital expenses of the biological mother as well as her newborn infant to be adopted. And if temporary foster care is required before the child is placed with its adoptive parents, those charges can be reimbursed by the military.
As we noted earlier, though, the costs for travel (either domestically or internationally) doesn’t qualify as a reimbursable expense.
Military adoption reimbursement maxes out at $5,000 per year, even if multiple children have been adopted.
How to Apply for Reimbursement
The application process to be reimbursed for adoption expenses starts with filling out DD Form 2675 (Reimbursement Request for Adoption Expenses), getting a Commanding Officer to sign it and submitting it to the service member’s command administrative department. Along with the form, the rest of the adoption paperwork must be submitted, including all receipts, documentation from the adoption agency and any court papers.
Keeping detailed records and copies of everything related to the adoption will pay off during the reimbursement process.
The form must be submitted within two years after the adoption becomes final. If it’s a foreign adoption, the completed Form 2675 and relevant documentation must be submitted within two years after obtaining U.S. citizenship. And the service member must be on active duty at the time he or she files the request for reimbursement.
Military Adoption Tax Credit
As with civilian taxpayers, service members who adopt are eligible for the Federal Adoption Tax Credit. It can help make adoption more affordable by allowing military families to claim a tax credit of up to $14,890 per child (in 2022) for qualified adoption expenses.
The tax credit can be applied to qualified expenses such as adoption fees, court fees, attorney fees, travel expenses and other costs related to the adoption process.
There are some guidelines, including an income limit that could phase out, lower or even eliminate the tax credit for high earners. And the expenses must be claimed during the year in which the child is adopted.
If a service member’s adoption expenses are greater than his or her tax liability, then the tax credit can be carried over to the following year, for up to five years.
The adoption tax credit can apply even on top of other adoption financial assistance from the military.
A Child Waits Foundation
If a prospective adoptive parent in the military earns a gross income of less than $150,000, he or she is eligible for a grant through the A Child Waits Foundation intended to help cover the final adoption costs.
That includes qualified expenses such as travel (which, remember, isn’t covered by the military’s adoption reimbursement program), attorney fees, agency fees and other adoption-related costs. A Child Waits grants are awarded independent of any military adoption benefits, and they can be applied to the costs of private adoptions of newborns or older children, sibling groups (or reunification of siblings), foster children, and children from an adoption disruption or dissolution.
The amount available in each grant varies, but usually doesn’t exceed $10,000.
A Child Waits grants are available to U.S. and Canadian citizens (who meet the income criteria) for both domestic and international adoptions. But in most cases, the funds aren’t released until a termination of parental rights has been signed and the revocation period has ended.
Help Us Adopt Grant
These grants, which also are intended for families with limited resources, are awarded in sums of between $500 and $20,000, depending on need, to help cover the cost of adoption. They are awarded four times a year – at the ends of February, May, August and November.
To be eligible for a Help Us Adopt grant:
- At least one applicant must be a U.S. citizen and currently reside in the U.S. (an APO address suffices), or be using an adoption agency based in the U.S.
- The service member or family must have completed a home study to apply.
- The applicant cannot be pregnant, pursuing infertility treatments, or trying to conceive while planning for an adoption and applying for the grant.
- Although there isn’t a specific income requirement, the applicant must demonstrate the need for financial assistance.
- The applicant must show a willingness to go ahead with adoption plans even without the assistance from Help Us Adopt.
The grants are available for domestic, international and foster care adoptions. As with A Child Waits grants, the funds are intended to help prospective adoptive parents complete the process so they can bring their child home.
Preparing for Adoption When in the Military
Navigating through adoption can take months, and it might seem as if every step along the way involves writing a hefty check or incurring another whopping credit-card charge. A deployment during the process or residence at an overseas station can complicate matters. When one parent might be away from home for a year or longer at a time, it can raise questions from adoption agencies about the stability of the child’s home life
But it no doubt will be worth it when the adopted child finally is released to the permanent care of his or her new parent or parents.
The journey can be made easier with the right planning and pro-active reach-outs to the many resource organizations available to help ease the financial burden on service members. Connecting with each of those resources involves meeting specific requirements, so it’s important to understand exactly what’s required to get the necessary help. That includes the time frames that must be followed for reimbursements and grant applications.
Checking with the Family Service Center at the nearest base will help with an introduction to the military’s adoption benefits. Finding an adoption agency that regularly works with military families is a good early step, too. The counselors there should be familiar with what’s available and how to get it.
If the expense of adoption become too stressful, a nonprofit credit counseling agency such as InCharge Debt Solutions can offer advice on how to avoid the pitfalls of over-extending the family budget. By law, credit counselors are required to provide guidance that is in the best interest of the client.
About The Author
Michael Knisley writes about military related finance topics like military pay, security clearances, and Tricare for Military Money. Michael was an assistant professor on the faculty at the prestigious University of Missouri School of Journalism and has more than 40 years of experience editing and writing about business, sports and the spectrum of issues affecting consumers and fans. During his career, Michael has won awards from the New York Press Club, the Online News Association, the Military Reporters and Editors Association, the Associated Press Sports Editors and the Sports Emmys.
- N.A. (ND) Planning for Adoption: Knowing the Costs and Resources. Child Welfare Information Gateway. Retrieved from https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/s_costs.pdf
- N.A. (ND) The Average Cost of Adoption – What to Expect. Retrieved from https://www.americanadoptions.com/adopt/average-adoption-cost
- N.A. (2021, October 22) My Air Force Benefits: Adoption Assistance. Retrieved from https://www.myairforcebenefits.us.af.mil/Benefit-Library/Federal-Benefits/Adoption-Assistance?serv=26
- N.A. (2021, September 2) Adoption Reimbursement. Defense Finance and Accounting Service. Retrieved from https://www.dfas.mil/militarymembers/payentitlements/adoptionreimbursement/
- N.A. (ND) A Child Waits Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.achildwaits.org/home
- N.A. (ND) Help Us Adopt. Retrieved from https://www.helpusadopt.org/home