Types of Marriages in South Africa

marriage contractsSouth 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:

Civil Marriage is usually seen as the “traditional” form of marriage and is still the most common type of marriage entered into today. The requirements and procedure for a Civil Marriage are:

  • 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;
    • Judges, etc.
  • 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.
  • Polygamy is prohibited under this form of marriage.

Customary Marriage:

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:

  • 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 ID books (or card) 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.

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

Civil Union:

A Civil Union is a marriage between two people of the same gender. The requirements for a Civil Union are;

  • 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 marriage the following is needed;
    • 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


Department of Home Affairs. (2016, Unknown). Preparing to get married Retrieved 8th March 2016, from http://www.dha.gov.za/index.php/civic-services/marriage-certificates

Rautenbach, C. (2008). South African Common and Customary Law of Intestate Succession: A question of harmonisation, integration or abolition. Electronic Journal of Comparative Law, 12(1), accessed 8th March 2016, from http://www.ejcl.org/121/art121-20.pdf