For the bridal couple | Customary Marriages and Civil Unions

Learn about customary marriages and South Africa's version of gay marriage with Hooray Weddings

So, we’ve chatted about marriage requirements, matrimonial property regimes (what happens to your money once you’re married) and the myth of common law marriage. What else could we possibly have to tell you about the legalities of getting hitched??

Yes, yes, there is definitely more to tell!

Today we’re heading in a less traditional direction, we’re talking customary marriages and civil unions.

Mike and Jay and civil union in SA

In South Africa there are a few possible ways to get married.

  • The Marriage Act (this is for heterosexual monogamous couples)
  • The Civil Union Act (this is for same sex or heterosexual monogamous couples)
  • Recognition of Customary Marriages Act (for monogamous or polygamous couples)

What exactly is a customary marriage?

Being party to a customary marriage means your marriage has been “negotiated, celebrated or concluded according to any of the systems of indigenous African customary law which exist in South Africa”. This does not include marriages concluded according to Hindu, Muslim or any other religious ceremonies

What are the requirements for a customary marriage?

  1. The marriage must be negotiated, entered into or celebrated in accordance with customary law
  2. The spouses must be 18 years or older
  3. The spouses must give their free consent to the marriage

Similarly to a civil marriage, if a minor wants to get married consent from parents, guardian, Commissioner of Child Welfare or a judge of the High Court (depending on the circumstances) is required.

If either of the spouses-to-be are already party to a civil marriage, a customary marriage cannot be entered into while the civil marriage is still in force. However, if a male is currently married in terms of customary law marriage he may enter into a civil marriage through the normal process.

There is no restriction on the number of customary marriages a man may enter into. All that is required is that he obtains an order of court which will regulate his future matrimonial property system (see our recent article on Ante-nuptial Contracts and Matrimonial Property Regimes in South Africa if you’d like some light shed on this topic).

Registering customary marriages

Customary marriages need to be registered within 3 months of the marriage taking place and the following people should be present:

  • The two spouses (with copies of their valid identity books and a lobola agreement, if applicable)
  • At least one witness from the bride’s family
  • At least one witness from the groom’s family
  • And/or the representative of each of the families
  • In addition, if either of the spouses were minors at the time of the conclusion of the customary marriage the parents should be present

Mike and Jay and civil union in SA

What exactly is a civil union?

A civil union is similar to marriage under the Marriage Act but it is available to both homosexual and heterosexual couples. It allows same-sex partners all of the same rights and obligations that fall to spouses in a traditional marriage. You can read more about civil unions (in terms of both same-sex marriages and an alternative known as a civil partnership) in an older Hooray post here:

Also see more of the real wedding that we’ve pulled the images for this post from here.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our legal series. Let us know if you have any questions! We’d love to answer them!




2 thoughts on “For the bridal couple | Customary Marriages and Civil Unions

  1. Pingback: Nicola + Edge – A Durban Elopement – Hooray Weddings

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