A chunk of it goes to pay for the home study. Different agencies charge different amounts for this process, and I guess that just boils down to how much they think their time is worth. In our case, the cost for the home study is $1,750. A home study first involves a background check of all adults living in the home to make sure that we aren't criminals or dangerous individuals. Then, a social worker will come to the home to make sure that the home is appropriate for a child to live there, and that there is space for that child. In the case of a first adoption, significant information about adoption in general is given to the adoptive couple to prepare them for parenting an adopted child.
I'm not sure about how other agencies break down their costs, but with the agency we used for Christopher's adoption, and now our new baby's adoption, the next step is the "Match Money" - which is basically the money that is due when the adoptive couple is matched with a birth mom. In this adoption, we were matched with our children's birth mom as soon as we agreed to adopt the baby! So...our "match money" - which is $15,500, is due as soon as possible - preferably next month (November). The agency is able to work with us a little bit and is letting us spread the money out over the next 6 weeks or so. This money is used primarily to pay for the birth mother's living and medical expenses. The way the law is set up, adoptive couples are permitted to pay a portion or all of the birth mother's living (rent, utilities, food, etc.) and medical expenses. While I do understand that this supports the birth mother while she is growing the baby, to some extent, this bothers me a bit because she would need to cover most of these expenses on her own if she weren't placing the child for adoption. But, I think the part that bothers me the most about this is that if the birth mother changes her mind at any point before she relinquishes her parental rights (including when the baby is born), the adoptive parents have no resources to recoup this money that they have paid out on the birth mother's behalf. Which means that it is possible for a pregnant lady to have all of her living expenses paid for during her pregnancy and still keep her baby. Not that we worry about that with this birth mother. She NEVER wavered in her decision to place Christopher for adoption (and he was the first child she had placed for adoption), so I don't expect it will be any different with this baby. :)
The next amount due will be when the baby is born, which is called the "At Placement" payment. This is whatever is left - right now, that estimated amount for us is $15,500 - could be more or less, depending on how much the agency ends up paying out for the birth mom's living & medical expenses and any unexpected expenses. This payment covers the agency's expenses, which includes an amount that helps to cover the agency's costs of working with birth moms that never make a match with an adoptive couple. This money also covers the costs involved in the adoption finalization costs, which includes the lawyer's & court fees.
So...that's adoption costs in a nutshell...at least as I understand them. Yes, it's a LOT of money...and some risk involved, especially when you are dealing with a domestic adoption - which is why many adoptive couples choose international adoption over domestic adoption, since the children who are available through international adoption already have the parental rights severed. However, I can speak from personal experience that once that little baby is placed in your arms for the first time (regardless of whether you adopt domestically or internationally), no amount of money matters! No matter what you've spent or what you had to do to raise the money, it's ALL worth it! :)
I will never forget the day that Christopher was first placed in my arms in the delivery room, or the bonding time David and I had with him in the hospital nursery. It was one of the best moments of my life...even better was the following day, when we brought him home from the hospital (on David's birthday) and knowing he was ours (even though there was still 3 months of post-placement visits to do before the adoption was finalized, to us it was a mere formality)! And every day for the last seven and a half years of being Christopher's Mommy has been an absolute blessing! I can only imagine what the next seven and a half years and beyond will hold...but one thing I know beyond a shadow of a doubt is that God brought these two children to us and we are blessed beyond measure because of it! :)