Helpful Advice

Legal and practical issues regarding marriage should be taken care of as soon as possible, after which you’ll be free to focus all your attention on planning the wedding itself! First up, you and your partner need to decide what type of ceremony you want, after which you can contact a marriage officer and book the venue. Just as important is speaking to a lawyer about which type of marriage contract will suit you best.

What you’ll need

To get married in South Africa you will need a valid ID book, passport, or an affidavit attesting to your identity if the original document has been lost or stolen and you’re in the process of applying for a new one. If either partner is a minor, they will also need the written consent of their parents, legal guardians or the Commissioner of Child Welfare. If you’ve been married before, then a final decree of divorce is necessary, and if you’re a widow or widower, the death certificate of your spouse must be produced. You will also need clear copies of your two witnesses’ IDs or passports.

Overseas brides and grooms wishing to marry in South Africa should be aware of a few simple legalities, with information about the various acts available on the website of the Department of Home Affairs: Foreigners will need copies of their passports, three colour passport photos each, and letter of non-impediment from their embassy. They also need to fill in a ‘Declaration for the Purpose of Marriage’ (Form BI-31) in the presence of the marriage officer, and produce copies of divorce decrees or death certificates where necessary.

While your marriage officer will automatically issue you with an original abridged marriage certificate after the ceremony, some countries require an unabridged certificate to register the marriage once you return home. When the marriage officer registers your marriage with the Department of Home Affairs, they will apply for your unabridged marriage certificate, which can take anything from two to eight weeks to obtain.

The marriage ceremony

According to the South African Marriage Act, the ceremony must take place indoors in a church or other building used for religious services, a public office (like a magistrate’s court) or a private dwelling. Further, it should take place in the presence of at least two witnesses, and the entrance to the venue must be open. Only marriage officers, such as a minister of religion, magistrate, special justice of the peace, and commissioner of oaths, are allowed to conduct a marriage ceremony.

Ceremonies today can be either secular or religious, and while the latter vary substantially between different cultures, most have common elements such as the offering of rings, flowers or some other symbolic item, and the exchange of vows in front of a religious or community leader. Most religions, including Judaism, Islam and Hinduism, see marriage as a sacred duty and an important facet of spiritual life. The convention of the ‘white wedding’, which is common to both Christians and Jews, has been adopted by many Zulu and Xhosa couples, who may hold a Western wedding service in addition to traditional rituals which honour the ancestors.

Customary Zulu marriage proposal are accompanied by ‘lobola’ or ‘bride price’, which refers to payment made by the groom’s family to the bride’s family. In times gone by, lobola took the form of cattle. Today cash is usually considered acceptable. The wedding reception takes place over several days and involves the wider community in a celebration of feasting, dancing and singing.

Civil ceremonies allow the couple increased flexibility regarding the type and location of their ceremony, as well as considerable freedom with their vows. This may be the perfect choice for a bride and groom who come from differing religious backgrounds or for a couple with no religious affiliations.

Marriage acts and contracts

In South Africa there are three laws under which couples may choose to be married. These include the Marriage Act (Act 25 of 1961), the Customary Marriages Act (Act 120 of 1998), and the Civil Union Act (Act 17 of 2006). The Customary Marriages Act provides for the civil registration of marriages solemnised according to tribal custom. Same-sex marriages are permitted under the Civil Union Act, with partners given the choice of having their union called a ‘civil partnership’ or a ‘marriage partnership’ and enjoying the same legal and material benefits and responsibilities as couples married under the Marriage Act.

Couples should visit an attorney at least three months before the wedding to find out about the different marriage contract options. A Notary Public is an attorney who is specially qualified to execute notarial contracts such as these and can advise couples regarding the contract that best suits their situation. Other important documents such as wills and insurance policies also need to be dealt with. It’s essential that you have an ante-nuptial contract (ANC) drawn up before the wedding to clarify the legal and financial aspects of your union.

In Community of Property: This system applies if you do not enter into a specific ANC before marriage. All assets and liabilities, whether acquired before or after marriage, are shared equally. It can be problematic if one partner gets into debt, as the other will be held equally responsible for the amount owed. Furthermore, neither partner is allowed to sell an asset without the other partner’s written consent.

Out of Community of Property: If the ANC is ‘Without Accrual’, each partner retains separate ownership of all assets and debts brought into and acquired during the marriage. This can be unfair as non-monetary contributions, such as looking after the home, are not acknowledged. Contracts ‘With Accrual’ take into account both monetary and non-monetary contributions made during the marriage, while protecting each partner from the liabilities of the other. Assets acquired before marriage are excluded.

Before compiling a guest list, work out how many people you’re able to invite to your wedding. This will be determined by factors such as your budget and the size of your wedding venue. While inviting your closest friends and relatives to your special day may appear a fairly easy task at the outset, it can become an etiquette minefield, particularly in the case of smaller weddings.

Start by writing down the must-haves, such as immediate family members, close relatives and attendants. Thereafter, the bride and groom could each jot down the names of their friends, keeping their respective lists roughly the same length, followed by a list of their mutual friends.

Give your parents some input, especially if they are making a financial contribution to the wedding, as they may want to include other family members as well as colleagues and friends. If you are paying for the wedding yourself and are strapped for cash, it’s quite acceptable to ask your parents to pay for any additional guests they want to invite.

When it comes to work colleagues, if you’re employed by a small company and are quite friendly with most of your co-workers, it’s advisable to invite everyone in the office. However, if your workplace is large then it might be preferable to invite nobody at all, or just one or two of your closest friends.

Deciding which relatives to invite can be tricky when you have a large family and don’t see much of the more far-flung branches of the family tree! It’s nonetheless hard to exclude specific individuals or groups from your guest list. While basic etiquette dictates that you include siblings, parents and grandparents, does this extend to step-parents and step-siblings, uncles, aunts and first cousins as well?

You’re least likely to hurt someone’s feelings by omitting a whole category of relatives. Perhaps explain that because the venue is small you’re not able to invite cousins from either the groom’s or bride’s side of the family. You could also specify that only adults are being invited, stating ‘Regret no children’ on the wedding invitation. Unmarried friends are generally not a ‘plus-one’ unless they are engaged to or living with someone. Another option is to keep a back-up ‘B’ list of people to invite if any of those on the ‘A’ list decline!

((perhaps this can go under the budget planner?))Who pays for what?

While the contribution of parents toward the wedding day may not be as great as it was in times gone by, there are nonetheless still some expectations regarding who pays for what. Today, with many couples getting married in their thirties, some brides and grooms are also opting to pay for the wedding themselves. Whichever route you decide to take, financial issues and responsibilities should be discussed openly with both sets of parents before the wedding planning begins.

Traditional financial responsibilities:

  • The bride’s parents pay for the wedding reception, including food, décor and floral arrangements, the invitations and stationery, bridal gown, bridesmaids’ dresses and accessories, the photographer and videographer, and music or other entertainment.
  • The bride pays for the groom’s wedding ring as well as her gift to the groom and gifts for her attendants and parents.
  • The groom pays for the wedding ceremony, the bride’s engagement ring and wedding band, gifts for his parents, the attendants and the bride, as well as for the honeymoon.
  • The groom’s parents pay for drinks at the reception, wedding favours, the bridal bouquets, corsages and buttonholes, the suit hire and their own outfits.