Types of Marriages in South Africa | The Basics Explained

There are 3 different types of marriage regimes that are recognised under South African law: Civil Marriages, Customary Marriages, and Civil Unions. The solemnisation and registration of these marriages are managed by the Department of Home Affairs.

What is a Civil Marriage? 

A civil marriage is a marriage that can only be entered into between a man and a woman. It is the most common type of marriage in South Africa. 

There are three types of civil marriages: marriage in community of property; marriage out of community of property; and marriage out of community of property with accrual. However, a civil marriage will automatically be in community of property, unless an ante-nuptial contract indicates otherwise. 

What is a Customary Marriage? 

Customary marriages are recognised as valid marriages in terms of the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act 120 of 1998. By definition, a customary marriage is a union that is concluded in terms of indigenous African customary law. 

Similar to a civil marriage, the marital regime of a customary marriage can be in or out of community of property. There are three conditions for a customary marriage to be legally valid. 

1. Both the people getting married must be over 18. 

2.  They must both agree to be married under customary law. 

3.  Their marriage must be celebrated according to the prevailing customary law of their community.

Some marriages may have more than two people, as polygamous marriages are recognised.

What is a Civil Union? 

Civil unions or civil partnerships were introduced in South Africa in 2006 by the Civil Union Act, which also legalised same-sex marriage. While civil unions are often referred to as same-sex unions, they can in fact be formed by opposite-sex couples, too. Anyone married in a civil union has the same rights, responsibilities and legal consequences as those in a civil marriage. 

The major difference between a civil marriage and a civil union is that the former can only be done between a male and a female, whereas a Civil Union allows same-sex unions.

If you’d like to know more about marriage contracts or if you have any other questions, feel free to contact us.