Marriage is a contract between a man and a woman entered into in terms of the Marriage Act 25 of 1961. According to this contract they agree to live together as husband and wife. Like other contracts, a marriage contract has rights and duties for each partner.
South African law recognises civil marriages, civil unions and customary marriages. Marriages according to Muslim or Hindu rites are not ‘legal’ marriages (see Muslim and Hindu Marriages), but enjoy limited recognition in certain circumstances.
For a civil marriage, there are certain rules that have to be obeyed in order for the marriage to be valid. For example:
- Both parties must agree to marry each other.
- If you are already married civilly you cannot enter into another civil marriage again until your first spouse dies, or until the first marriage ends in divorce. While you are civilly married and you marry someone else civilly you are guilty of the crime of bigamy.
- You cannot marry and/or have sex with close relatives, eg a grandfather cannot marry his granddaughter. If you do, you are guilty of incest.
- Boys under 18 and girls under 15 cannot marry unless they have permission from their parents and the Minister of Home Affairs.
- Minors (persons under the the age of 18 years, as the Children’s Act defines a child as a person under 18 years) also need their parents’ permission to marry.
- A marriage officer must conduct the civil marriage ceremony to make it legally valid.