How do I claim the adoption tax credit?

Adoptive parents may be eligible for federal tax incentives. The Tax Code includes an adoption tax credit to help defray the costs of an adoption. Recent changes to the adoption tax credit make it very valuable.

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Temporary increase

In 2010, Congress temporarily increased the dollar limitation for the adoption tax credit (and the income exclusion for employer-provided adoption expenses) by $1,000 (from $12,170 to $13,170 for 2010 and indexed for inflation for tax years beginning after December 31, 2010). Congress also made the adoption tax credit refundable for 2010 and 2011. These enhancements, however, are scheduled to expire after December 31, 2011 unless Congress extends them.

Your income is another factor to take into account. You may not receive the full amount of the adoption tax credit for 2010 if your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is $182,520 or more. The adoption tax credit is completely phased out if your MAGI is $222,520 or more. These amounts may be adjusted for inflation by the IRS in 2011.  Additionally, to prevent double benefits, the adoption tax credit is coordinated with the exclusion for employer-provided adoption assistance

Qualified expenses

A number of adoption-related expenses may qualify for the tax credit. These expenses include, but are not limited to, reasonable and necessary adoption fees, travel expenses, fees paid to attorneys, and court costs.  The IRS has identified on its website some expenses that are excluded, such as expenses related to the adoption of the child of a taxpayer’s spouse, the costs of a surrogate parenting arrangement, and expenses that violate state or federal law.  Additionally, expenses related to a foreign adoption qualify only if the taxpayer actually adopts the child.  That rule is different if a domestic adoption is unsuccessful.

Eligible child

An eligible child for purposes of the adoption tax credit is an individual who has not attained the age of 18 at the time of the adoption, or is physically or mentally incapable of caring for himself or herself. A child has special-needs if the child otherwise meets the definition of eligible child, the child is a U.S. citizen or resident, a state determines that the child cannot or should not be returned to his or her parent’s home, and  a state determines that the child probably will not be adopted unless assistance is provided.

Form 8839

Taxpayers file Form 8839, Qualified Adoption Expenses, to claim the adoption tax credit.  At this time, Form 8839 cannot be filed electronically; it must be filed on paper because the IRS requires you to attach supporting documentation.

The IRS requires different documents if the adoption is foreign or domestic, final or not final, and if the adoption is of a child with special needs. The IRS has issued special safe harbor rules for certain foreign adoptions. The home country of the child may be included in the safe harbors which streamline some of the documentation requirements.

The IRS recommends that taxpayers keep the following records: Receipts for qualified adoption expenses, final decree, certificate or order of adoption, home study by an authorized placement agency, child placement agreements or court orders, and determination of special needs status by a State or the District of Columbia.

Processing Form 8839 can take some time. One of the most common mistakes taxpayers make is failing to attach supporting documents.   After the IRS conducts an initial review of Form 8839, it notifies taxpayers explaining any additional steps they need to take, such as providing certain documentation to establish whether they are eligible for the credit.

If you have any questions about the adoption tax credit, please contact our office.


If and only to the extent that this publication contains contributions from tax professionals who are subject to the rules of professional conduct set forth in Circular 230, as promulgated by the United States Department of the Treasury, the publisher, on behalf of those contributors, hereby states that any U.S. federal tax advice that is contained in such contributions was not intended or written to be used by any taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed on the taxpayer by the Internal Revenue Service, and it cannot be used by any taxpayer for such purpose.