"Test Drive" Consultations

Legal Fees / Components

Risk and Legal Fees

Length of the Process
Contested Cases

Ways to Send Us Your Legal Data

List of Copies to Make

Directions to Our Office


Birth Parents are always free.

Potential Adoptive Parent Clients* sometimes call to "check prices." But LEGAL adoption is not just a service for a fee. For adoption, you need a lawyer you can trust. So "checking prices" is not all you should care about, and it's not all WE care about. (In general, first read the "Why I Do This" discussion of
trust on the Home page.) But as to the cost of the legal work required, even many lawyers don't realize how complex adoption can get. You want to consider ALL the costs --- both legal and emotional --- that may be involved. To cover all these bases, we need to assess your situation FULLY. If that initial consultation were short enough to be "free," surprises and problems could easily surface later, and then that "free" initial consultation would look more like a baited trap than a benefit. Also, as our expertise has grown, and as the demand for it has grown, lengthy "free" consultations have become more and more unfair to our existing clients who have paid for our full attention on their adoptions. So, sadly, serious* potential Adoptive Parent clients must pre-pay for "test drive" consultations.

For Adoptive Parent* "test drive" consultations, we offer two options. When you click through and pay, we will get an e-mail showing the information you enter. We will confirm via e-mail. (If that is not convenient, say so in the Reference slot, and we will call the phone number you enter there.) Attach relevant documents (divorce decrees, child support orders, etc.) to a reply e-mail. And please also e-mail brief info that will help the consultation "hit the ground running."

* These options are offered for SERIOUS potential Adoptive Parent clients. If, for whatever reason, you doubt we are the office for you, by all means, call and just ask us for a referral who may be better for your case. For example, if you live a long way from Savannah, you may well feel that a law office closer to you is preferable. (Similarly, non-Georgians need representation in their own state.) Or, if your case will DEFINITELY involve courtroom litigation, we do not do that. If, for any reason, if you question whether we are the office for you, you may certainly call and discuss it with us.

Legal Fee Basics

Every adoption involves the legal cost of
finalizing parental rights in the adoptive parents.

2. MORE LEGAL WORK is required if existing
(or potential) parental rights must be terminated.

3. ALSO, adoptions involve both Attorney Fees (professional
services) and Expenses (filing fees, document fees, etc.).

For ethical reasons, Attorney Fees and Expenses must be paid separately. If we have provided
you with quotes for either or both of these two components, you may pay them securely here:


Attorney Fees are for
the professional services
needed for the adoption,
but for us, these also include
amounts for office expenses,
mileage reimbursements, etc. To
pay these, use the link at Left.

Expenses are for fees that
must be paid to others for the
adoption to happen. This money
remains YOUR money, and as
such, it remains in our separate
Escrow Account until used. To
pay these, use the link at Right.


Additional Factors

1. There is a
dollar-for-dollar tax CREDIT, not just a deduction,
for adoption expenses [including legal fees] up to over $12,000
[NOT available for stepparent adoption; see these instructions.]

2. There are many types of grants available for adoption expenses.
Many employers offer adoption benefits, grants, and/or matching grants.
See our Financial Help section for more info.

3. If the lowest possible fee is your top priority,
you may not be putting the child's best interests first.

4. To the minimize the risks of the adoption procedure,
we take no legal steps until all amounts are paid.

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Legal Costs --- Components of Adoptions:

  • Our Commitment To Families
    Families are the foundation of our society. This is why family (re)building is the focus of our law practice. Stronger families are especially important for those at lower income levels. So we reduce our fees for those with household incomes below 250% of the federal poverty level. The amount of the reduction depends on the number of people living in the home and the gross household income. Call or e-mail for more information.

  • But Doing It Right Takes Time and Money
    Having said that, you should also know that we do not compromise on quality. Adoption must be done right. And to minimize the risks associated with adoption, once the process is begun, it should be completed without delay, too. Unfortunately, quality and speed cost more than slow, mediocre service. But as stated on our Home Page, if the absolute lowest fee is your top priority, just recognize that hiring the lawyer who quotes the lowest fee runs the risk of getting less expertise than you need.

  • Adoptive Families Magazine on Choosing an Attorney
    Again, for what it's worth, here are some suggestions on Choosing an Attorney from Adoptive Families Magazine. There are, again, aspects of this that may be a little off track, but still, it might help you organize your thoughts on the subject.

The following general descriptions will give you an idea of how much legal work will have to be done on your adoption:

1. Every adoption involves finalizing the adoptive parent rights in the adoptive parents. In many cases, this is all adoptive parents need an attorney to do. For agency adoptions (whether public or private), international adoption finalizations, and adult adoptions, the cost of this separate proceeding will be necessary. (In most DFCS adoptions, however, federal adoption assistance will reimburse all of these costs.) For more than one child, adopting them all in the same proceeding will significantly reduce the total cost (though confidentiality considerations may warrant otherwise).

2. In Stepparent Adoptions, the existing (or potential) parental rights of at least ONE person must be terminated. This increases the necessary legal work beyond the finalization described above. A savings here however is that, unless the judge orders otherwise, there will be no "home study" expense. It is usually waived. Mr. Bull has addressed stepparent issues in a little more detail in this other online forum. (And as discussed on our Match page, it is especially tempting to think of stepparent adoption as a "commodity," but the laws --- and judges --- take termination of parental rights very, very seriously, and they are not going to discount the seriousness of that process, no matter how wonderful the "step-family" is. So the fees for a stepparent adoption may be higher than you are expecting them to be.)

3. For Relative Adoptions, the existing (or potential) parental rights of at least TWO people must be terminated --- twice as much additional work as for stepparent adoptions. But again, unless the judge orders otherwise, there will be no "home study" expense. It is usually waived for relative adoptions also.

4. For Independent Adoptions ("unrelated" adoption, with no agency involved), not only must the existing (or potential) parental rights of at least TWO people be terminated, some form of home study must be done. This cost is payable directly to the provider of that service, not to our office. Overall, independent adoption is quite a bargain. It involves the most complicated, and therefore most expensive, legal proceedings, but there is no private adoption agency fee. Those can run from $12,000 to well over $20,000 (not counting the legal cost of finalizing the adoption; though it usually includes the home study). So overall, independent adoption is much less expensive than agency adoption.

5. Further complications can occur with 2, 3, and 4 above. If an existing parent willingly signs the necessary paperwork for the adoption, that is one thing. But when parents must be served with notice and terminated "against their will," that is more time-consuming, expensive, and risky. If they oppose the adoption, they may be able to block it completely. But even if they are doomed to lose, dealing with their opposition takes that much more time and effort. If notice of the adoption must be given by publication, that takes additional time as well.

6. Interstate adoption. If an "unrelated" adoption crosses state lines, another chunk of work must be done to satisfy the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children ("ICPC"). This bureaucratic procedure seeks to ensure that the adopted child is going to a good, safe home, and that the adoption is not a disguised form of "baby selling." If you work with an agency, their fee will usually include handling this step also.

7. Birth parent representation. Where we are just representing birth parent(s) for termination of their rights, the fee and costs (though normally paid by the adoptive parents) would obviously not include finalization by the adoptive parents. Also, if it is an interstate adoption, the ICPC work will have to be done.

8. Birth parent expenses. As of September 1, 2018, Georgians CAN pay some birth parent expenses. As discussed
elsewhere, maternity-related medical expenses can be paid directly, but rent, utilities, food, and maternity items MUST go through a lawyer's trust account. And all such payments must be reported to the court under oath. Pre-adoptive parents should NOT risk even small financial aids to birth parents without a lawyer familiar with the process. Because if it is done wrong, it is a felony. (And this is NOT just a scheme to drum up attorney fees. That discussion is elsewhere also.)

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Risk and Legal Fees

  • The Biggest Risk You Face Is Poor Legal Work
    Many people worry that adoptions can "come apart" after they are "completed." Sensational, tabloid-style stories --- about kids being returned to birth parents years after being adopted --- keep some people from even considering adoption. But usually, the only reason these rare, rare exceptions make news at all is that their legal issues were not handled competently.

  • The Law Treats Legal Parenthood Very Seriously
    Which brings up this: Adoption is a more serious legal proceeding than many realize. Transferring legal parenthood is not something that the law --- or judges --- take lightly. A legal action has to be initiated in Superior Court (the highest trial level court in Georgia), and everyone involved is exposed to serious risk if it is not taken to a legally valid completion.

  • Minimizing the Risks
    This is the biggest reason that the fees and costs should be paid before the process is started: to minimize the risk the participants face until the decree is valid and final. Many families facing financial strains will want to take a "pay as you go" approach, but until the adoption is finalized, the participants --- and the child --- are at serious risk. Installment payments can be made before the process starts, but the only acceptable strategy with adoption is to finish it as soon as it is legally feasible. So even if the fee is paid in installments, we don't begin the procedure until the cost of finishing it is paid.

  • Refunds for "Failed" Adoptions
    On the other hand, if an adoption fails to complete because participants change their minds, or the adoption "disrupts" for some reason, the remaining, unearned legal fees are refunded.

  • Fee Quotes
    In sum: Adoption is not a minor legal proceeding, and you are not going to pay for it by skipping this month's car payment. That same old rule of thumb applies: "You get what you pay for." State Bar Rules prohibit publication of actual fee quotes on a web site, in part because every case truly is different. If you read a "published" fee here, but your case requires more work than that, you will be angry for having to pay more than you expected. The above general descriptions are meant to give you an idea of how much legal work will have to be done on your adoption.

  • The Risk of "Pay-As-You-Go" Adoption
    Lawyers unfamiliar with adoption often do not require full payment in advance. If you are tempted to hire a lawyer because the fee is not required in advance, you should understand the risk: You may end up paying more than you expect before the job is done, and it could take longer to finalize if you "pay as you go" (and until the adoption is actually finalized, it could fail, and the child's future would be uncertain).

  • An Experienced Adoption Attorney Will Ask Detailed Questions About Your Case
    A reliable legal fee quote should be based on knowledgeable, probing, and detailed questions about your situation and your goals. Beware of low fee quotes when few questions have been asked. Too many lawyers will quote a low fee --- especially to a friend --- without really knowing what that particular adoption is going to involve. Other lawyers will quote a high fee, hoping that you will choose another lawyer! (Or at least that it will be "worth their while" to learn out how to do it.) In either case, you'll end up paying more than necessary (financially, legally, or emotionally; perhaps all three), and you may never know how much easier it could have been.

  • Our Commitment to Adoption
    We are deeply committed to adoption, both as a ministry and as a profession, and we know what it takes to do it right. We keep our fees and expenses as low as we can, without cutting risky corners.

  • No Two Cases Are The Same
    As shown on our Adoption Planning page, there are many different types of adoption, and each involves several people with differing legal interests and needs. The legal fees and costs can vary greatly from case to case, and your situation may call for a different approach than you think.

  • Special Needs Adoption Usually Costs Less
    Don't forget that special needs adoption is often free to adoptive parents. And many types of financial help are also available for most types of adoption.

  • Get the Big Legal Picture
    No matter what type of adoption you are considering, there are legal issues right from the start. You need the big picture, and you need to be sure that each part of your adoption plan meshes with the other parts. Pre-adoptive parents in Georgia will eventually have to file a court petition to finalize their adoption anyway. For a small retainer, we can advise you on your adoption plan from the beginning, and then credit that retainer towards your finalization. Most of our clients are adoptive parents finalizing their adoptions, but in many of these cases, we also address the birth parents' rights. In relative and stepparent adoptions, for example, as well as for independent adoptions occurring without an agency, we usually handle both steps.

  • We Do Not Charge Birth Parents
    We also assist birth parents, of course, but we do not charge a fee to them.

  • We Do Not Charge for the Living Trust Consecration Ceremony
    There is no fee in connection with the Living Trust Consecration Ceremony, either.

Reserve Your "Test Drive" Consultation.

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Length of the Process

The finalization process that is required at the end of any adoption usually takes ONE TO THREE MONTHS. The TOTAL time required for your adoption will depend on whether you need to find a match, and on how complicated it is to address the existing parental rights (which usually depends on the existing father's legal status and his attitude toward the adoption). Also, when an adoption crosses state lines, things can slow down greatly and get a lot more complex legally.

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Sending Your Legal Data to Us

Once you are ready to proceed on the legal part of your adoption plan, you want things to move along as quickly as possible. If you want me to help with your plan, we need to sign a contract (Georgia State Bar Rules require me to have written contracts with our clients). Obviously, we need data from you to prepare the contract, but in addition, adoption involves large amounts of information, and numerous forms. The spellings and numbers on all these forms must be fully and exactly correct. Naturally, you are the best source of accuracy for all these things.

The Forms & Resource Guide page has the quickest,
most accurate ways to get your data to us,


we will probably only need to meet once to get all the papers signed.

The more secure method of submitting your data to us is the Downloadable Legal Steps Form. The Web-Based Legal Steps Form on our Forms and Resources page may seem quicker or easier in some ways, but before using it, you should know that this site is not "secured" like sites that accept credit card payments. (Of course, the data involved here is probably available out there somewhere on the Internet about all of us! But it's up to you.) If you aren't comfortable sending data through the Internet at all, you can always bring us a copy of that Form's questions with your answers on a USB drive (or other removable media). Or you could even just print out that Form's questions with your answers --- or write your answers by hand on a printed-out copy --- and mail the printed results to us at:

Birney Bull
P. O. Box 9811
Savannah, Georgia 31412-0011

or fax it to us at

Of course, you can always call (912-ADOPT-NEED [236-7863]), and provide your data that way, but as stated above, all of the numbers and spellings have to be completely correct, and you are the best source of accuracy for this data. Typing and double checking it yourself before
sending it directly to us is the best way to be sure that everything is correct. And getting your data digitally --- allowing us to paste it directly into your data base --- is the quickest and most accurate way to prepare the papers you will need.

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One Final Note


If your case becomes contested to the point of litigation, and you want to press it further, we will have to bring in another attorney, either to handle the litigation or to take over the entire case. And that will mean yet more legal fees, so watch out for that.

As it says on our Adoption Planning page, our law practice is about family (re)building. By design, our office is not set up to handle adoptions that are really custody disputes. We have found that, one way or another, custody litigation almost always harms the children. Adoption should be about the best interests of the child, but custody battles are almost always about adult issues (about "winning" custody and/or "punishing" an opponent), and the "best interests of the child" tend to be relegated to serving those motives. (In fact, all litigation is more damaging than most people realize. Too many little spats become all-out legal wars on our fellow citizens, and our society suffers for it.)

Broadly speaking, there are two types of law practice: litigation, and "transactional." Litigation is: "When you cannot agree, go to court, fight hard, and let the legal system determine what 'justice' is in your case." "Transactional" law practice, on the other hand, is structuring one's legal posture (one's transactions) with an eye to PREVENTING litigation. While adoption, like litigation, involves filing a "case" in Superior Court, it is actually more of a transaction. And while preventing litigation is preferable in ALL transactions, preventing litigation is ESPECIALLY important when a child's future is at stake.

Not that "bad" parents do not exist. They do. All too frequently. But it is often the same immaturities and irrationalities that make them "bad" in the first place that also send them into denial about both their deficiencies and their children's best interests. Their lives may be giant train wrecks, but they will resent anyone who steps up to adopt their children. Too many times, we have heard them say: "All I have left in the world is my child, and now you're trying to take that from me too." Incredibly, even if they are caught lying under oath about current drug abuse, if they don't have recent criminal convictions for child abuse or something endangering kids, there are judges who simply will not rule against them. (Yes, that actually happened in a case we handled. How could that possibly happen? Well, remember that, as discussed in the stepparent adoption section of our Match page, if an adoption degenerates into litigation about the fitness of a parent, the only possible "remedy" is the "death penalty" of terminating ALL parental rights, and there ARE judges who simply will not issue a death penalty.)

Such parents may seem obviously unfit to you, but judges often do not rule against them in adoptions. Adoptions require hearings at close quarters with judges, and when judges sense that a case is mainly about adults fighting --- that the "adoption" is more like custody litigation than a transaction --- things usually get "chilly," and existing parents get sympathy from the judge, if not an outright "pass." (And, by the way, judges tend to "blame" adoption lawyers for letting litigation "co-opt" an adoption.) An adoption that is more of a litigated custody dispute rarely makes anyone happy, and it usually does more harm than good.

If an existing parent may oppose your case, it may be tempting to hope that the person may not go to the trouble or expense of expressing opposition in a legally sufficient way, or may not do anything at all. But when opposition DOES arise, the "transaction" can easily spiral out of control and turn into full blown litigation. Honestly, not only is the adoption code not designed to tailor-make punishments for "bad" parents, our practice is not really about that either. So if opposition is even remotely possible, don't kid yourself (or us) about it.

Plus, as much as some cases cry out to save children from unfit parents, not only does custody litigation almost always hurt the children, but if we "go to war" in one case, that puts our office on "hold" with several other adoption cases where everyone agrees on the adoption plan. It doesn't make sense to hold up people who are working together to help children, in order to litigate with one person bent on fighting (especially when adoptions-turned-custody-litigations so often give those people a pass anyway).

For all these reasons, we simply do not want to file adoptions that are, or will become, litigated custody battles. It gives not just us, but adoption itself, a bad name when it is reduced to being a tool for "punishing" bad parents. In general, the purpose of adoption is a transaction that will prevent litigation over kids. It is not meant to be litigation that punishes parents who just are not as "good" as they should be.

If you think your case could become a court battle, don't just cross your fingers. Maybe you can enlist a mutually respected friend or family member to persuade the person to be more reasonable about adoption. If not, you may even need to report an unfit parent to the Department of Family and Child Services (DFCS). (If the parent would resent you for blowing the whistle, see if an investigating police officer or hospital staffer can be the one to call DFCS in. That may not work, but it may be worth a try.) Do be aware, though, that DFCS will often try first to rehabilitate the "bad" parent, and reunite the existing family. But if DFCS agrees that rehabilitation is impossible, family members or close friends are usually prime candidates when DFCS places a child for adoption. You will have to take their "parenting course," but they prefer family and friends who already have positive roles in the children's lives.

Otherwise, if "unfitness" is truly present, but it will take some "proving," you should probably begin the proceeding in Juvenile Court, where the judges are more immune to, and willing to punish, the sob stories and bogus excuses of bad parents. (That also is a process we do not handle.)

Reserve Your "Test Drive" Consultation.

We're always happy to help people adopt!

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1. Before you print this list out (highlight the list, then File: Print: Selection),


The Downloadable Legal Steps Form contains this SAME list of documents. Even if you won't be e-mailing it back to us, it will give you a place to write in details about our meeting, everything you need together in one place.

2. These papers do not fax clearly; either let us make copies of them when we meet, or mail copies to us at our P. O. Box.

3. You DO NOT need to make copies of ANYONE'S Social Security card, nor any parent's birth certificate.

You will also need to bring the originals of these papers to the final hearing.

Domestic adoption:
--- each adoptee:
birth certificate, any guardianship documentation

--- birth parents: current marriage license / most recent child support order / legitimation decree(s) / DNA test results / death certificate(s) / divorce decree(s): most recent, and any divorce decree mentioning adoptee(s)

--- adoptive parents: current marriage license / most recent divorce decree / death certificate of last spouse of unmarried adoptive parent

International adoption:
--- each adoptee:
the final foreign adoption or guardianship decree & verified English translation / translator's qualification statement / translator's complete name, and current address / Visa granting the child entry to the United States (may be just a stamp in child's passport) / child's original and any amended birth certificate & verified translation

--- adoptive parents: the home study completed for US Citizenship and Immigration Services / current marriage license / divorce decree / death certificate of last spouse of unmarried adoptive parent

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General Limitations, and Specific E-Mail Limitations!

CAVEAT LECTOR! Disclaimers tend to be distasteful intrusions into otherwise informative reading. "Fair warning" is one thing; but what about those giant slabs of text that can turn even monosyllabic e-mails into multi-MB server-cloggers? Well sadly, they are routine facts of life these days. As Bishop Fulton Sheen said years ago, "The big print giveth, and the fine print taketh away."

Unfortunately, the same applies here, both to everything on this site in general, and specifically to any e-mail sent by or on behalf of our office. BUT, rather than clog your Inbox with them, every e-mail we send has a link to this full deal here on our website for all to see. You know what we mean --- those pesky notices that: 5. Advise that if you think you can sue us for what we've written, you didn't understand what we were trying to say; 4. Reserve whatever rights we can reserve despite any role we had in writing it; 3. Argue that we really do know how to spell, despite what was there when "Send" was clicked; 2. Warn you that what you got MAY be confidential and/or privileged ("IT" may be privileged, not you???); 1. Tell you that at least two federal laws limit the extent of any advice we can give here or by e-mail ( (A) IRS Circular 230, which says that nothing we might say justifies trying to evade IRS provisions or penalties (shocking, huh?); and (B) the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, 18 U.S.C. 2510-2521, which says that if you've gotten a message in error, please notify us, delete it, forget you ever saw it, etc.; and frankly, if you read these and similar laws, they basically say that if you like what we've said, it may be wrong if it's not independent advice you paid for!); and 0. LIFTOFF! Houston, we have liftoff! .... Ahem, ... well, you know, that sort of thing. So govern yourself accordingly, and PRAISE THE LAW! And oh yes, have a nice (non-litigious!) day!

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Our office is located at 1903 Abercorn Street. If coming on I-16 from outside Savannah, take the 37th Street exit (about a mile before downtown Savannah), stay on 37th to Abercorn (some 10 blocks), turn left, and our office is a block and a half on the left, at 35th Lane and Abercorn. The only sign currently will be the "Donaldson and Bell" law firm, so look for that. There is usually free parking on the street, but there is additional free parking in our lot behind the building.

As for the Chatham County Courthouse (if you have to go there for the final hearing on a Chatham County adoption petition), it is at 133 Montgomery Street (it looks like a big block of granite). I-16 merges into Montgomery Street in downtown Savannah (3rd & last "exit" after 37th Street), the courthouse will be on the left, just before the 3rd traffic light, which is Broughton Street. Allow about 15 minutes for parking --- it can be an ordeal. Parking is tight everywhere in downtown Savannah, and on top of that, construction could foul up these instructions. There is usually space available in the County Courthouse garage next to the courthouse (enter on MLK --- turn left on Broughton, then left again on MLK; public parking ONLY on floor 3 and above), or in the City garage across Montgomery from the front of the courthouse. The garages may have more expensive hourly rates, but they're usually more convenient than parking at a meter or "Pay to Park" machine, where Parking Enforcement has been known to sit and wait for the last minute expire to put the ticket under the windshield wiper.

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