Guide to ‘I do’: Getting married in South Africa

Learn everything about getting married in South Africa. The country is just asking for you to combine its scenic beauty, mixed with a rich heritage, for the most romantic day of your life. Find out what you need to do step by step. Discover the legalities so that you have peace of mind knowing that you are ready and informed. We will answer your questions. Who is eligible to get married? Preparing to get married, The Process of getting married. Types of marriages etc. Look out for Unfold Durban’s secret list of the best wedding vendors in this article.

By Mark D Young

Preparing to get married

Before getting to the magical moments and the sweet first kiss, there is a path of planning and careful preparation. But, first things first, registering for the marriage certificate.
Then comes the finer details such as the venue, cake, music, photographer and flowers! Let’s dive into the nitty-gritty of the former. You may require different documents depending on which type of marriage you are entering.

Necessary documents

  • Identity documents if you are a South African citizen.
  • Valid Passport for non-residents.
  • B1 -31 Affidavit for non-residents.
  • Two colour 35mm x 45mm colour passport photographs for each partner to the marriage.
  • Copies of 2 witnesses’ IDs or passports.
  • Divorce certificate/s ( vitally necessary if either partner has been married before.)
  • Death certificate of former spouse/s if either party is a widow/widower.
  • Consent of parent if under 18 years of age. ( Yes can you believe this exists)

Given these points, you must prove you are legally eligible to marry in South Africa. Non-resident couples can apply for a South African marriage license if they have the correct documents.

Many cases of identity fraud and fraudulent marriages have been reported to the South African Department of Home Affairs in recent decades. Therefore, before your wedding, it’s best to check your marital status with home affairs in case your data has been abused to register a fraudulent marriage. You do not want to be caught unaware.

Legal styles of marriage in the Republic of South Africa

You will also, prior to the actual ceremony, have to decide which of the legal matrimonial property regimes you wish to govern your union in terms of South African law.

These regimes have a distinct legal effect should the marriage ever be dissolved and choosing the wrong regime for your particular personal and business circumstances could have serious effects on your long-term financial security.

If you do not specify the regime, and follow the correct process to register your preferred regime, the default regime that applies is community of property.

Here is an overview of the marriage regimes applicable in South Africa:

Community of property

In this regime all assets and liabilities of both parties, before during and after the marriage become, effectively, co-owned by a single, joint estate. There is no formal process involved and South African law deems the transfer to joint ownership of all assets and liabilities to take place as soon as the marriage is formalised. 

There are however assets that do not form part of the joint estate, for example, assets excluded in a will by a third party, engagement gifts, assets subject to an agreement permitting someone else to use and/or benefit from them and non-patrimonial damages which may have been awarded to either party prior to the marriage.

Other than these limited exclusions, all goods and liabilities will be equally owned and owed by the marriage partners. If the marriage dissolves, any company or asset owned by either party is automatically subject to an equal division in value in any subsequent settlement. Likewise, if one party runs up debts unknown to the other, the innocent party is equally liable as the estate is a joint estate. For this reason, partners in a community of property marriage may not, generally, undertake any form of contract involving finance, or the purchase of immovable property, without the written consent of their partner.

Out of Community of Property with an Antenuptial Contract

In this regime, a contract is concluded between the parties to exclude their marriage from the common law and statutory matrimonial property regime and its implications for their assets. With this mechanism spouses can exclude certain assets from their joint-estate, as well as the other’s liability from debts of the other. Other important provisions to include are to do with inheritances, the preferred matrimonial property system and marriage settlements (donations). An antenuptual contract must be formally concluded in front of a notary and registered with the deeds office to be valid.

The Accrual System

In this regime the partners agree to keep their assets as they were before the marriage. However, any goods, property or finances accrued to the parties as a result of the marriage is equally divided if the marriage is ever dissolved. The assets owned prior to the marriage revert to the parties as they were prior to the marriage.

The matrimonial property regime is complex and you are strongly advised to consult a legal professional before you get married. While you can change your matrimonial property regime after you get married, this involves approaching the High Court and is a long, complex and very costly process.

The wedding process in South Africa

Picture yourself walking down the aisle with the backdrop of South Africa’s best landscapes! Take care of a few administrative duties before that dream can become reality. There must be a licensed marriage officer at the marriage ceremony.

A wedding ceremony must take place indoors or under cover, such as: in a church building, chapel or private house. However, the venue must be accessible to the public in case anyone has objections to raise. In terms of South African law, two adult, legally identifiable witnesses must be present to witness the marriage solemnisation. 

By Mark D Young

Venues

Many venues, especially the more popular ones, such as Durban’s Oyster Box or the 12 Apostles Hotel in Cape Town, offer all the amenities you will need for your big day! These are the most viewed places online but in reality, only a few can afford them.

Similarly, a small gathering with close loved ones at a hidden gem also provides magic. Have a look at this beautiful venue in Assagay. The Macnut Farm Wedding venue is a beautiful space for the most romantic and important day of your life. Hannah who runs the venue is an exceptional human who will make your day the most magical experience. Not to mention the exquisite photos you will be able to get with the beautiful backdrop of 1000 Hills Valley.

Macnut Farm
By Mark D Young

It just depends on your preferences. For example, the Endless Horizons Boutique Hotel in Umhlanga on the East Coast offers a small yet luxurious location.

Wedding Planners

You may need help choosing the dress, a good wedding photographer, a musician etc. Wedding planners are a great way to help you with this. I could give you 10 reasons to hire a wedding planner but sometimes it is honestly just best to cut out the middleman. That choice is entirely up to you. There are a few wedding directory websites that can help you with all you need.

The next steps

If you are entering a civil or customary marriage, a marriage officer usually informs you of all that you will need. The marriage officer will then hand you a handwritten marriage certificate. This certificate is the original and copies cannot be issued. 

It is therefore advisable to get certified copies of the original marriage certificate made as soon as possible and to get the original safely stored away. The marriage officer must register your marriage with the Department of Home Affairs so there is nothing for you to do in that regard. Changing your status and surname, if you wish to do so, with your bank and other entities involves notifying them of the change and sending them a certified copy of the marriage certificate.

Once you have ensured your certificate is safe, the celebration and fun may follow. The reception that took months to plan, is over in an instant but your new life is just beginning.

By Mark D Young

Who can get married in South Africa?

You might be wondering who can get married in South Africa. South Africa has indigenous African customary law and a vast array of different religious services. What is accepted and what is not?

A man may have more than one wife but a woman may not have more than one husband. Same-sex marriage was been made legal in 2006. As progressive as South Africa has become as a nation, it still does not recognise Muslims, Hindus or any other religious rites.

You must be over 18 to get married in South Africa. Minors under the age of 18 are permitted to get married with consent from a legal guardian.

Types of marriage certificates in South Africa

In South African law there are three types of marriages. Civil marriages, customary marriages, religious marriages and civil unions.

A civil marriage is a civil contract without a religious ceremony. In South Africa, a civil marriage will automatically be in community of property, unless there is an antenuptial contract.

A customary marriage is a marriage celebrated by customary law in their community. It can be monogamous or polygamous. The husband must apply to the High Court for permission to enter a polygamous marriage. He must provide the court with a written contract stating how the property in the marriage will be regulated.

A civil union is a marriage between two persons of the same sex following the Civil Union Act of 2006.

A religious marriage is a marriage entered into in terms of a religion such as the Islamic and Hindu faith. There is limited protection provided to a religious marriage even though it is not recognised by the law. It is treated as a marriage out of community of property without the accrual system.

Unabridged marriage certificate

You will receive an abridged marriage certificate immediately. However, if you require an unabridged marriage certificate it can take up to eight weeks. When a previous spouse has passed away and you remarry, you need an unabridged certificate. You also need the deceased spouse’s death certificate.

There is a cost of issuing an unabridged marriage certificate, you can check on the home affairs site for the cost.

Marriages at Home Affairs or court

You can no longer go to court to get married. You have to go online and book an appointment online at your local home affairs branch. Although this way may be a cheaper option to tie the knot, it will require you to stand in queues for a long time.

This is where the marriage officer is a great life saver!! They not only perform marriages but they also guide you in the right steps to take. They know what forms are needed and take care of all the paperwork so you don’t have to worry.

If you do however choose to go this route you will need your identity documents and birth certificates. You will need a B1 -31 form and a valid passport if you are not a South African resident.

By the way, if you do choose to go directly to the home affairs offices please keep in mind your safety. Do not wear expensive jewelry or take valuables. The home affairs are usually situated in the CBD in high-crime areas. Take along snacks and your own toilet paper.

The cheapest way of getting married in South Africa?

South Africa has gorgeous wedding venues to choose from. Say ‘I do’ in the luxurious Cape Winelands, Kruger National Park or Scenic KZN coast. Alternatively, instead of spending thousands on a lavish wedding, use your savings for a romantic honeymoon.

The cheapest way to get married is to go to home affairs yourselves. Another option would be to do the legal side with the marriage officer at a set indoor location with your two witnesses present. Do the legalities first and capture the essence of your love in a small intimate beach wedding.

A picnic wedding would also be cheaper. Yet still a romantic, quirky and whimsical option for those on a budget. You can either provide pre-packed picnic baskets or even a BYO (bring your own) picnic.

Choose a venue with lovely gardens or have the wedding at home. Use your close friends and family to take photos, or make the bouquet. All that is needed is a little bit of creativity.

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