Everything you need to know about marriage in South Africa

16 Mar 2023·20 min to read
Everything you need to know about marriage in South Africa 01

The level of diversity in South Africa is high, from the cultures to the religions and races of people in the country. Getting married in South Africa can be quite straightforward once the couple is able to provide all required documents as well as the legal capacity to marry. Over 120,000 marriages are performed every year in South Africa, and the marriage laws in the country are not too strict. In the country, a man is allowed to get married to more than two women; however, a woman may only be married to one man at a time. Polyandry is prohibited under the laws of the country.

Both residents and foreigners are allowed to legally get married in South Africa. For a foreigner to get married, they must ensure they are not prohibited from doing so by their own country. The legal age to get married in the country is 18 years, and if someone younger than that age wants to get married, they must be able to provide parental or guardian consent as well as an authorization from the law court permitting such an act. The marriage laws in South Africa allow marriages between people of different beliefs and customs, such as sexual orientation, culture, religion, etc. Let’s go straight to the types of marriages in South Africa and the differences between them.

Marriage forms in South Africa

There are three types of marriages that are legally binding in South Africa. These are civil marriage, customary marriage, and civil union. These types of marriages have different scenarios in which they are held, and these are stated below.

Civil marriage

This type of marriage is performed by a government- or state-approved official, and it is governed by the marriage act of the country. By default, a South African marriage is a community of property where the spouses are able to share their assets and debts with each other to control them as one. However, if an antenuptial contract is entered into by the couple, each partner is entitled to their own assets and debt without interference. The Marriage Act of 1961, under which this marriage is held, gives room for the solemnization of a religious or civil marriage held between a man and a woman in South Africa.

Customary marriage 

As the name implies, a customary marriage is one that is planned and performed according to the indigenous African customs that exist in the country of South Africa. This marriage is recognized under the 1998 Customary Marriage Act. This bill allows the registration of marriages according to the customary laws of Africa. There are certain customs and traditions that are unique to some communities, and these special conditions may be recognized under the law. In some communities, polygyny is allowed, and the South African law also makes provision for this.

Civil Union

This is the third type of marriage that is legally binding in South Africa. A civil union marriage is held between two partners of the same sex. Nevertheless, opposite-sex couples are also allowed to hold civil unions, and that is what differentiates this type of marriage from a civil marriage. A civil union may be performed by same-sex and opposite-sex couples, while a civil marriage may only be performed by opposite-sex couples. This marriage is under the Civil Union Act of 2006. This type of partnership works between two people regardless of their sexual orientation, and all the rights and responsibilities that are present in opposite-sex marriages are also present in a civil union.

To be lawfully married in South Africa, the couple must first submit their intention to marry at the department of home affairs. Also, they must apply for a marriage certificate. Couples must apply for this certificate at least three months before their wedding date. The hookah affairs marriage forms are available to couples on request. These forms must be duly filled out by the couple and submitted along with some other paperwork. The documents that are needed during the marriage registration process are listed below:

Required Documents

  • A valid means of identification, e.g., a South African ID card
  • A complete BI-31 form. This is to declare that the spouse can legally marry in South Africa.
  • Valid current passports This is to be provided if one spouse is a foreigner.
  • A written parental or guardian consent. This applies to a partner under the age of 18 planning to marry in South Africa. A man under the age of 18 and a woman under the age of 15 must get additional consent from the Ministry of Home Affairs.
  • An official divorce certificate. This applies to a spouse who was previously married to someone else. This decree must be stamped by the court.
  • A death certificate. This applies to a spouse who was in a previous marriage where their former partner died.

Religious Marriage in South Africa

Christianity is the most popular religion in South Africa. The majority of the marriages are held according to the ceremonial procedures of a Christian wedding, with a wedding reception after the church service. This type of marriage is officiated by an authorized clergyman or priest. Here, the bride is walked down the aisle by her father, and she exchanges vows and rings with the groom. Beforehand, the priest will ask the guests if there is anyone who objects to the marriage; if nobody objects, the priest goes ahead and pronounces the couple as husband and wife, and they share a kiss.

After the church ceremony is concluded, a wedding reception is usually held in a different venue. This usually takes place from noon until the wedding reception, which is usually held in a different venue. This usually takes place from noon until the evening, or at a time preferred by the couple as well as the guests. The wedding reception is a party where the newlyweds get to have fun with all the wedding party and guests alongside food, games, and drinks. Note that religious marriages are not legally binding in South Africa. A civil marriage must be conducted first by couples before they go ahead with religious ceremonial rites for the union to be recognized and protected by law.

Invalid Marriages 

There are certain conditions and circumstances under which a marriage may be invalid and void in South Africa. Some of the conditions under which a marriage may be invalid are stated below:

  • A marriage by a spouse who is still in a previous relationship or marriage with another person other than their current spouse is invalid. To make this marriage legal, the previous marriage must have been legally ended, with documentation to prove it.
  • A marriage between minors is invalid. This applies to marriages where both partners are minors or where one of them is a minor, i.e., they have not reached the minimum legal age of 18 years. Before a minor is permitted to marry in South Africa, they must obtain written parental consent, and there must also be court authorization.
  • If a spouse is mentally ill, they are not allowed to get married. If a marriage is held in this situation, it is legally declared null and void.
  • A forced marriage is invalid in South Africa. Both spouses must freely consent to the marriage, and it must not be held as a result of threats, coercion, fraud, etc.
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Marriage traditions in South Africa


This is the engagement ceremony and is one of the most important traditions in South African marriages. Here, the groom and his family go to the bride's family house to pay the bride's price. This is usually open to negotiation, where both families can barter over the prices to choose the ones that suit them. The bride price can be presented in any form other than cash, such as presents, food, animals, etc. The bride price usually helps the couple begin their new life together.

Izinizo and Umbando

This ceremonial rite is performed on a Friday, when the groom’s family visits the bride's family so they can exchange pleasantries and get to know each other better. They often dance together and sing South African traditional songs. The bride's family also receives gifts. The umbando is the second part of this rite, where the bride reciprocates the groom's gesture by also bringing presents to his family’s house.

The 12 Symbols

This is a popular tradition in South Africa where 12 distinct items are used during the course of the traditional ceremony as decorations, ornaments, etc. These items include wine, a pot, a broom, a spoon, wheat, bitter herbs, salt, pepper, a spear, a shield, honey, and a holy book. These items are different elements of life that represent love, unity, peace, and strength in the couple's marriage.

Money dance 

This is a tradition that includes not only the couples but also other family members, friends, and guests. The king dance is a common ceremonial rite where everyone dances and cheers on the couple by also throwing money at them.

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Marriage Laws and Rights: Costs and Duties


In South Africa, getting married means different things to different people. It could mean a celebration of Africa's rich traditions or a simple western white dress ceremony, but it is ultimately a legal affair, and there are rules that intending couples have to abide by before any marriage can be declared legal under South African law. To this day, there are 3 laws under which a marriage can be performed: The Customary Marriage Act, the Marriage Act, and the Civil Union Act. Regardless of the law, a marriage certificate issued by the court gives legal validity to a marriage between two people. 

Intending couples must be at least 18 years old; marriage between minors is permissible with parental consent. Marriage between people of the same blood is strictly forbidden because it is considered illegal. Registration of marriage at the department of home affairs is compulsory, and your marriage must be conducted by an authorized marriage official before two witnesses.

According to the Customary Marriage Act of 1998, marriages can be performed according to the current traditional rules of the community. The customary marriage act allows polygamy, but the husband must seek permission from the high court and state how he intends to maintain the property rights of his spouses before entering into it. Upon registration of a customary marriage, the department of home affairs would require copies of the identity documents of both spouses, a lobola agreement letter, and two witnesses (one from the bride's and one from the groom's). A customary marriage is not void if it is not registered; however, in certain circumstances, having legal proof saves a lot of stress.

The Marriage Act of 1961 makes provisions for both civil and religious marriages between a man and a woman. The laws of marriage under the Marriage Act also apply to the Civil Union Act, except that it makes provisions for civil unions between people of the same gender. Under both Acts, marriages must be conducted by an authorized marriage officer after all necessary paperwork has been submitted and verified. Couples are required to submit identity documents and certificates of divorce or death if one of the spouses was previously married. For foreigners, a letter of no impediment and a declaration for the purpose of marriage, along with the passports of both parties, must be submitted to the department of home affairs, and these documents must also be available on the chosen wedding day.


Just like in any part of the world, couples are entitled to various sets of rights that are made available under the law guiding marriages. However, in South Africa, couples who are not married and are merely cohabiting have no rights whatsoever; you only get to enjoy these conjugal rights when you're married.

Any civil marriage in South Africa is automatically subject to the community property regime, which means that any property or debts acquired by either party during the marriage belong to both parties by virtue of the marriage unless an antenuptial agreement is signed prior to the marriage. The husband has the right to marry more than one wife, provided he receives permission from the high court and is able to prove that he is financially capable; however, this right is not available to the woman. Both parties have the right to gather assets and dispose of them as they see fit, unlike before, when the man had the sole right to control all assets and the woman had to seek the permission of her husband before doing anything. Women have the right to inherit family property.


Having the perfect wedding is anyone's dream; however, planning an active wedding budget always seems like an impossible task. An average wedding in South Africa generally costs between 70,000 and 200,000 rand. The cost of getting married in South Africa largely depends on the location, size of the wedding, and how many guests you'd be catering to. R70,000–R80,000 should be enough if you're catering to approximately 100 guests.

The reception location, catering, and entertainment consume approximately 50% of the wedding budget; photography and videography consume approximately 15%; decorations and entertainment consume approximately 20%; wedding dresses, accessories, and invitations consume approximately 20%; and the remaining 15% is allocated to miscellaneous expenses.z

According to the law, the wife's family is responsible for carrying the majority of the wedding expenses, while the husband is only expected to pay for any legal fees and also take care of the honeymoon expenses. If you're aiming for a simple home wedding or an extravagant wedding, it's advisable to plan properly to avoid starting a family with debts around your neck.


The husband and wife have dynamic roles to perform in the family. They both have a duty to support, respect, and contribute to the financial and socioeconomic wellbeing of the family. They are both obligated by law to provide for each other's needs and to live together while supporting each other. Couples are expected to provide adequate care for the family and their children, as well as provide proper education and a conducive environment for them to grow up in. In South Africa, there is no distinction between male and female responsibilities; in some households, women are the breadwinners. Both parties have a joint legal responsibility to protect their families from any form of harm.


Religious marriages are not legally binding in South Africa. Couples are allowed to freely perform religious marriages; however, a civil marriage must be held beforehand. South Africa recognizes different forms of marriage, from same-sex unions to polygamy and marriages between foreigners, etc. Same-sex couples are allowed to also have religious ceremonies in their places of worship, provided that the religious association supports this.

Marriage registration procedures are held at the Department of Home Affairs. Magistrates and civil servants are authorized by the state to be marriage officers and officials at civil ceremonies. By default, when a marriage is entered into in South Africa, the spouses are both entitled to each other’s assets and liabilities. Couples who want to keep their assets and debts to themselves will have to enter a prenuptial agreement stating their marriage terms. This article is a comprehensive guide to everything you need to know about marriage in South Africa.