True love stories never have endings. RICHARD BACH

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.

The ante-nuptial contract

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.

Important documents

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. 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 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 non-traditional or conventional, with the latter conducted according to their religion, custom or culture. While the form these take varies substantially between different religions and 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.

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. While this was once made in 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.