How do I get married?

Relationships and partnerships are some of life’s greatest pleasure, and are important aspects in people’s lives. If you are thinking of making it official and taking that important step into commitment, then it is important to know what our law has to say about legal marriages

In South Africa our regulates majority of human conduct and that includes marriages. There are various Acts of Law which regulate lawful marriages and procedures. These were created because marriage is another form of a legal agreement and as such affects the rights of the people entering the marriage, thus causing a need to protect those individuals.

  • The Marriage Act 25 of1961
  • Recognition of Customary Marriage Act 120 of 1998.
  • Civil Union Act 17 of 2006

South African Law provides for three types of marriage contracts: Civil Marriage, Customary Marriage and Civil Union. Each has specific requirements and procedures in order to be valid and binding.


Civil Marriage is still the most common type of marriage entered into today, and it is regulated in terms of the Marriage Act 25 of 1961. The requirements and procedure for a Civil Marriage are as follows:

  • Both parties must give valid consent;
  • Both parties must be 18 years or older;
  • If younger than 18 years old, the parents or legal guardian must give consent; or an application to the High Court must be made;

The marriage must be performed by an authorised marriage officer in terms of the Marriages Act; these include;

  • Religious Ministers;
  • Designated officials of the Department of Home Affairs;

After the marriage ceremony;

The marriage officer and two witnesses must sign the marriage register;

The marriage officer must then give the couple a marriage certificate;

The signed register and certificate must be lodged at the Department of Home Affairs, so the details of the marriage can be recorded.

Marrying more than one person in a civil marriage is an unlawful, it amounts to a criminal offence known as bigamy and the perpetrator could face criminal charges and be prosecuted.


A Customary Marriage is defined as “a marriage negotiated, celebrated or entered into in terms of Customary Law.” Customary Laws are the customs or usages traditionally observed by the indigenous African people. The requirements for a valid Customary Marriage are stipulated in the Recognition of Customary Marriage Act 120 of 1998, which provides:

  • Both parties must validly consent to the marriage;
  • Both parties must be 18 years or older;
  • Parents or legal guardians of a minor may consent to the marriage or an application to the High Court may be made;
  • Must be concluded in terms of Customary Law.

Customary Marriages must be registered at the Department of Home Affairs. The couple, along with representatives from each family, needs to take their valid identity documents and their Lobola agreement (if available) to the Department of Home Affairs. If there is no Department of Home Affairs in the region, the registration can take place through a Traditional Leader.

Although it is recommended that the Customary marriage ought to be registered, failure to not register the marriage will not affect its validity. A marriage entered into in terms of customary is deemed to be one in community of property.

Customary Law allows for polygamy. In order to register more than one Customary Marriage the man, at his own expense, must approach a competent court to give a court order regulating the matrimonial property system of the marriage.


In terms of Civil Union Act 17 of 2006, a Civil Union is a marriage between two people of the same gender. The requirements for a Civil Union are as follows;

  • Both parties must be 18 years or older;
  • Both parties must validly consent;
  • Neither party may be already married in terms of any other law;
  • The marriage must be conduct by an authorised marriage officer.

The marriage must be registered at the Department of Home Affairs; in order to register the said marriage the following is required;

  • Valid South African ID books (or cards) or passport if one spouse is not a citizen of South Africa;
  • A completed Declaration for the Purpose of Marriage form;
  • A Civil Union Register must be completed by the Marriage Officer;
  • A Registration of Civil Union form, in which the couple indicates whether they are entering a Civil Union Partnership or Civil Union Marriage.

Disclaimer: This article is general information and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein.

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