A Shadchan is entitled to a fee by Jewish Law.
In Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat, Jewish Laws of monetary matters are laid out in a systematic comprehensive manner. In the section on the obligation to pay an agent, such as a real estate agent, the RAMA commented that a shadchan is an agent like a real estate agent who gets a fee and like a real estate agent, the shadchan can compel payment in bes din just like any debt owed.
The RAMA, is the acronym for Rav Moses Isserles (1530- 1572). So, for at least 500 years, the halachic ruling binding on all Ashkenazi Jews is that shadchan is an agent and by Jewish law is entitled to a fee. Sefardim are not bound to pay a shadchan by this ruling of the RAMA, but are obligated to pay a shadchan by written agreement. By signing up on Yismach, even Sephardim agree in witting to pay the shadchan at engagement and therefore are contractually bound.
Jewish Laws Regarding Obligation to Pay a Shadchan
Who is entitled to Shadchan fees?
Any person who makes a shidduch for someone else, whether it is a professional Shadchan or a friend, is entitled to a shadchan fee. This includes making a shidduch for relatives. If a close relative (i.e. brother, sister, brother-in-law) is a professional shadchan who had stated specifically they require a fee, or even if it didn’t cross their mind, but when the Shidduch was completed they demanded it, they are entitled to payment. However, in the case where they made the Shidduch as a favor to the son, family etc. as is commonly done, they are not entitled to payment.11
What constitutes an offer?
Suggesting a name without details
If one suggested a name to only one side, and another Shadchan was involved to complete the Shidduch, the first shadchan did not contribute to the shidduch and is therefore not entitled to payment.
However, if someone suggested the name of someone who the other Shadchanim could not possibly think of (such as a person from outside the country), there is a macklokes if the person is entitled to a fee as an initiator.
If one suggested a name to both sides, then it is considered that he is Mekarev Hadeyos and is entitled to payment as a matchil (initiator).12
As the scenarios vary greatly, and the halachos of matchil are based upon takanas and minhag hamakom one should consult a dayan for a psak for each case.
Setting up dates
A problem arises when a second Shadchan sets up the dates but does not act in any way to advance the Shidduch. In other words, all the details have already been worked out by the first shadchan, or the families independently worked out the details between themselves. In a case where one Shadchan made a suggestion and the families proceeded by themselves without the Shadchan’s intervention, they still owe the Shadchan the full amount.13 But in the case where there are two Shadchanim, and the second shadchan was not “mikarev hadeyaot” between the sides but rather just set up dates, then the second shadchan may not deserve any compensation. There lies a machlokes if an emtzei is entitled to anything at all or 1/3.14
To avoid disputes, it is advisable that one shadchan see it through to its conclusion.
Same suggestion from two Shadchanim
If a shadchan suggested someone, and the person did not accept or reject the offer, or the person accepted the offer but it was not pursued, or even was pursued and it did not work out, and another shadchan came after with the same suggestion without knowing of the first Shadchan’s suggestion and without benefitting from the first Shadchan’s work, the second Shadchan is entitled to the full fee. However, if the second Shadchan did benefit from the first Shadchan’s work, the first Shadchan is entitled to a Shadchan fee as a matchil.15
Is it permissible to change Shadchanim in the middle of a Shidduch?
A G-d fearing person should not involve another shadchan. However, while it is advisable that one should not involve another Shadchan, there are extenuating circumstances where a need for another Shadchan to intervene to make the Shidduch arises. In that case it is permitted. In any case, the first Shadchan has no claim of ownership of people, and cannot compel people to complete the Shidduch with his/her services.16
However, if the person changes Shadchan, not because the new Shadchan will provide an advantage, but rather only to award another Shadchan the fee, it is considered a grave transgression and one is considered a Rasha for doing so.17
In the permissible cases in which other Shadchanim are involved the work is either split, or if one took the shidduch over from someone else, then the work is split between the Matchil, Emzaei, and the Gomer.18
Reason for paying a Shadchan
Unfortunately, some Shadchanim are hesitant to work with others and pool resources together as they feel they have rights over the people they met, and if someone else succeeds in making a Shidduch, it is considered stealing from “their people.” However, this is a misconception as a Shadchan does not get paid for benefit from information about people they have met, rather he/she gets paid only due to their work on a shidduch.19
Obligation to pay a Shadchan
If a Shadchan demands payment and a second party denies that he was the Shadchan, it is considered just like any monetary complaint adjudicated by Beis Din20. A person has to pay a Shadchan because he benefitted from his work21. In a case where a person approached a shadchan to make him an offer, it is a Machalokes if one pays because the Shadchan is considered a Kablan or for the same reason – because he benefited from his work. The difference being whether there is Baal Talin if one doesn’t pay in time.22
If one asks a Shadchan to be set up with a specific person
In a case where a person approached the Shadchan to be set up with someone else, the Shadchan does not get paid the full amount but rather 1/3 is deducted from his fee as he didn’t make the offer.23
Asking more than the market value
If a shadchan asks for a fee which is 1/6 above the market rate, the person only has to pay the market value24, unless a Kinyan was made25, or even a handshake on the price which binds them to that agreement. If they paid already, then even without a Kinyan or handshake on the price, the shadchan does not return the money.26 If the shadchan was poor, then according to the Kitotz Hachosen, one must pay the Shadchan the full amount as it is considered a neder.27 The Netivos, however, argues that this is not considered an actual neder. If the Shadchan worked more than the accustomed amount of work, then even without a Kinyan, the person has to pay the agreed-upon price.28 In a case where one side didn’t pay the Shadchan for whatever reason, the Shadchan cannot demand that second side pay the obligation of the first.29
Not paying a Shadchan on time
One has an obligation to pay a shadchan at the engagement.30 If one does not pay the Shadchan upon engagement, he might possibly violate the issur of Baal Talin31. In a case where there is no Baal Talin, the person still must pay on time because of “בל תאמר לריעך לך ושוב ומחר אתן ויש אתו” — see Sefer Yismach Lev 32. Withholding payment from a Shadchan is so severe that some were prevented by Beis Din from getting married until they paid their debt to the Shadchan.32
At the engagement, the shadchan gets paid. If a Shadchan demands payment and a second party denies that he was the Shadchan, it is considered just like any monetary complaint adjudicated by Beis Din20. A person has to pay a Shadchan because he benefitted from his work21. In a case where a person approached a shadchan to make him an offer, it is a Machalokes if one pays because the Shadchan is considered a Kablan or for the same reason – because he benefited from his work. The difference being whether there is Baal Talin if one doesn’t pay in time.22
These halachos are complicated and no summary would do this justice, so please hear it directly from Rav Spitz: