Suppose a secular Jewish couple got civilly married- no halachik ceremony- and they get their marriage license. Could this marriage license serve as a Halachik Shtar, ie they'd need a Get if they wanted a divorce?
(please scroll to the bottom for an example of a secular marriage license)
Initially I thought "No way! Of course this wouldn't be a valid shtar! Where are the witnesses, and the shtar wasn't written l'shma!"
However after taking a look at the Shulchan Aruch where kiddushin via a shtar is discussed (Even Haezer 32:1-4), I'm not so convinced. Allow me to explain:
- problem of no witnesses-
The gemara in Sotah 3b teaches us a we need sh'nei eidim (two witnesses) for the kiddushin to be valid. We see in Even Haezer 32:4 that:
כתבו בכתב ידו ואין עליו עד מקודשת מספק (נ"י פ"ד אחין) ינתן לה שטר ואמר לה ע"מ שהנייר שלי אינה מקודשת (הר"ן פ"ק דקדושין):
If he wrote it in his hand and there are no witnesses on it she is questionably engaged (Nimukei Yosef the Chapter of Four Brothers). If he gave her a document and said, on the condition that the paper remains mine she is not engaged (Ran First Chapter of Kiddushin).
-if there are no witnesses she's "questionably engaged"... that doesn't sound like a "no" to me.
- problem of not being l'shma- The gemara in Kiddushin 9a-9b teaches us a that shtar kiddushin must be written l'shma. We see in Even Haezer 32:1 that:
וצריך שיכתוב אותו לשם האשה המתקדשת כמו בגט
And he must write it for the woman he is getting engaged to like with a Get.
-What's to say what qualifies as "l'shma?" Maybe calling the marriage office and indicating he wants a marriage license for him and his wife could be considered enough to meet the requirement of "l'shma" ie "for the woman"!
Obviously not something one should do l'chatchilah, but could a secular marriage contract potentially serve as valid shtar Kiddushin?
For reference: A sample NYC marriage licence: