The solemnisation and registration of civil marriages, customary marriages and civil unions are managed by the Department of Home Affairs. Civil marriages are governed by the Marriage Act and regulations issued in terms of the Act. South Africa also recognizes customary marriages through the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act, which became effective in November 2000. Civil unions are recognised in terms of the Civil Union Act (2006).
If you are planning on getting married, you must:
- ensure that you are legally allowed to marry
- understand the legal consequences of a marriage, particularly that marriages in South Africa are automatically in community of property, unless a valid ante-nuptial contract has been entered into before the marriage, and
- make sure that your marriage will comply with all the legal requirements for a valid marriage
Should you be unsure of any of these, legal counsel should be sought before the marriage is entered into.
Verifying your marital status
Due to the large number of fraudulent marriages reported to the Department of Home Affairs every year, a facility has been created for you to check your marital status at any time. You will need your South African ID number in order to use this facility.
You can also sms the letter M followed by your ID number (example: M 5001010050080) to 32551 A reply sms will be sent back to your cellphone to confirm your marital status and the date of your marriage. (R1 per sms and will be charged by your network service provider).
Documents required to enter into a marriage
On the day of the marriage a couple must present the following documents to the person officiating at the wedding:
- Identity documents(for each person getting married)
- If a foreign national is marrying a South African citizen, they should both present their valid passports as well as well as a completed BI-31 Form (Declaration for the Purpose of Marriage, Letter of no impediment)
- If the wedding is for a minor (a person under the age of 18 years), the written consent of both parents/ legal guardian or the Commissioner of Child Welfare or a judge should be submitted on Form DHA-32 as well. If the minors getting married are under the ages of 18 for boys or 15 for girls, the written consent from the Minister of Home Affairs will also be required
- If any of the persons getting married are divorced, then the final decree of divorce should be furnished
- If any of the persons getting married are widowed, the deceased spouse’s death certificate must be submitted.
Conducting a marriage
Only marriage officers authorised in terms of Act No. 25 of 1961 to perform marriages may do so. Presently civil marriages are solemnised at offices of the Department of Home Affairs and at churches (by authorised marriage officers).
A marriage must be conducted in the presence of at least two witnesses in:
- a church or another building used for religious services
- in a public office or private house, with open doors
- in the case of serious illness or injuries, the marriage may take place in a hospital or any concerned facility.
Two witnesses and the marriage officer must sign the marriage register after the solemnisation of a marriage. Then the marriage officer must issue the parties with a handwritten marriage certificate (BI-27) free of charge.
The marriage officer must then submit the marriage register to the nearest office of the Department of Home Affairs, where the marriage details will be recorded in the National Population Register (NPR).
Any additional abridged copies or unabridged copies of the marriage certificate can be requested by:
- Completing Form BI-130 in black ink and submitting it to the nearest office of the Department of Home Affairs or to the nearest South African embassy, mission or consulate abroad
- Paying the prescribed fee
The first issue of an abridged marriage certificate is free, and a re-issue is R75.00
In addition to abridged or unabridged copies of a marriage certificate, you may also request the following documents after completing Form BI-130 and paying the prescribed fees:
- A vault copy of the register
- An abridged marriage certificate that is either computer printed or handwritten
The law states that certain categories of people may not marry. These include:
- Minors, unless the prescribed consent to the marriage has been given
- People who are already married. bigamy is a punishable offence in South Africa. Such marriages are also null and void under South African law
- In the columns below, a man may not marry any person mentioned in column 1; and a woman may not marry any person mentioned in column 2:
Father’s father’s wife
Mother’s father’s wife
Wife’s father’s mother
Wife’s mother’s mother
Wife’s son’s daughter
Wife’s daughter’s daughter
Son’s son’s wife
Daughter’s son’s wife
Brother’s daughter’s daughter
Sister’s daughter’s daughter
Sister’s son’s daughter
Father’s mother’s husband
Mother’s mother’s husband
Husband’s father’s father
Husband’s mother’s father
Husband’s son’s son
Husband’s daughter’s son
Son’s daughter’s husband
Daughter’s daughter’s husband
Brother’s son’s son
Sister’s son’s son
Sister’s daughter’s son
Consent to the marriage of a minor
If you are or your partner is a minor (younger than 18 years) in the care of either your respective parents or a legal guardian, only the parents’/guardian’s written consent (Form DHA-32) is necessary for you to obtain a marriage certificate.
If a parent whose consent is legally required but either cannot be found to grant consent, or is legally incompetent to do so, then an application may be made to a Commissioner of Child Welfare for consent to the marriage.
If your parents and/or a Commissioner of Child Welfare refuse to grant consent for your marriage, you may then apply to a judge of the High Court for consent. The judge will not grant consent unless there is sufficient evidence that the marriage is in the interest of the minor and that prior consent has been unreasonably refused.
In addition to getting consent from the parents or guardian, boys under the age of 18 and girls under the age of 16 may also be required to seek the consent of the Minister of Home Affairs. The Minister may, on application, condone a marriage which required his/her consent but was contracted without such consent.
Voiding the marriage of a minor
A marriage contracted without the legally required consent of the parents or guardian can be made void, in other words, declared null and void by the High Court at the request of the parents or guardian:
- before the minor turns 21 and
- within six weeks of the date on which the marriage first came to their knowledge
If you are a minor, you may apply for the dissolution of the marriage:
- before you turn 21, or
- within three months after turning 21.
In South Africa, the definition of a customary marriage is one that is “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 in accordance with Hindu, Muslim or other religious rites.
Requirements for a customary marriages
For a customary marriage to be recognised as a valid marriage, it has to have been entered into before 15 November 2000.
However, if entered into after 15 November 2000 it must comply with the following requirements:
- The marriage must be negotiated, entered into or celebrated in accordance with customary law
- The prospective spouses must be above the age of 18 years
- Both prospective spouses must consent to the marriage
The parents of a prospective spouse who is a minor must consent to the marriage. If he/she has no parents, then his or her legal guardian must consent. If the parents or legal guardian cannot consent, a Commissioner of Child Welfare can be approached for consent. Where consent is refused by either of the parents, the legal guardian or the Commissioner of Child Welfare, only a judge of the High Court may consider granting consentIf either of the prospective spouses is already a spouse in a civil marriage, a customary marriage cannot be entered into during the subsistence of the civil marriage. A similar provision is also applied to customary marriages entered into from 1 December 1988.
Although there is no restriction on the number of customary marriages that a man may enter into, no further customary marriage may be entered into unless an order of court regulating the future matrimonial property system of his marriages has been obtained.
Registering customary marriages
Customary marriages must be registered within three months of taking place. This can be done at any office of the Department of Home Affairs or through a designated traditional leader in areas where there are no Home Affairs offices.
The following people should present themselves at either a Home Affairs office or a traditional leader in order to register a customary marriage:
- the two spouses (with copies of their valid identity books and a lobola agreement, if available)
- 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 the event that the spouses were minors (or one was a minor) at the time of the customary marriage, the parents should also be present when the request to register the marriage is made.
Customary marriages are registered by completing BI-1699 and paying the required fees. An acknowledgement of receipt BI-1700 will then be issued by the Department.
Registering more than one customary marriage
If a male person is already in a customary marriage and wishes to enter into another customary marriage he has to, at his own cost, get a court order from a competent court which will regulate his future matrimonial property system.
It is also possible for a male person who is already in a customary marriage to enter into a civil marriage. They should follow the normal procedure for civil marriages.
The Civil Union Act (effective from December 2006) allows anyone – regardless of their sexual orientation – to marry either through a civil union, a civil marriage or a customary marriage.
Civil unions may be conducted by:
- designated marriage officers for specific religious denominations or organisations
- designated officers employed by the Department of Home Affairs and the Magistrates’ Courts
At least two competent witnesses must be present at the ceremony.
Requirements for registering a Civil Union
- Both persons must be 18 years or older to enter into a Civil Union
- Both persons may not be already married in terms of any other Act.
Documents required to conclude a Civil Union
- Valid South African identity books for both persons entering into the Civil Union
- A valid passport if one of the partners is a foreign national
- A completed Form DHA-1763 (Declaration for the Purpose of Marriage)
- Form DHA-1766 (Civil Union register), which must be completed by the marriage officer
- A completed Form DHA-1764 (Registration of a Civil Union) in which the couple must indicate whether or not they are entering into a Civil Union marriage or a Civil Union partnership
- A copy of the Divorce Order if one of the partners was previously married but subsequently divorced.