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Marriage Types

Civil  Marriages

Civil marriage is where the state grants you legal recognition through documentation (marriage certificate) of your partnership (marriage) to your life partner irrespective of religious or cultural affiliation, in accordance with marriage laws of the state. A marriage is usually formalized at a wedding or marriage ceremony. The ceremony may be officiated either by a religious official, by a government official or by a state approved official. A marriage in South Africa can only be concluded and registered by a legally appointed marriage officer.  The marriage officer will register all marriages, through official documentation (wedding register), conducted by him or her at Home Affairs. Civil union marriage as a state institution is governed by the states laws and regulations.  In some countries any religious or customary ceremony must be held separately from, and usually before the required civil ceremony. While in many countries (Including South Africa) both can be held together.

Religious Marriages

Certain states do not recognize civil law marriages because they only accept religious marriage as binding when done according to their specific religious rites and laws.  There are also states that recognize both religious and civil marriages.   A religious marriage is viewed more as a spiritual bond and holy vow as commanded by God (or a deity) in which a man and a woman come together to create a unified relationship according to their Gods laws and commandments. Most religions of the world believe that a couple is not only joined physically in marriage but that they are also joined spiritually in marriage especially during intercourse. In a religious marriage the couple will be obliged to practice the religious rites and laws of marriage as set out by their religious institution or religious state. Religious marriages can easily become a serious point of contention. This happens because parents sometimes refuse to give their blessing to a coupe if they don’t follow their specific religious rituals.

Domestic partnership

A domestic partnership can either be a legal or personal relationship between two individuals who live together and share a common domestic life but where never joined in a marriage according to a specific marriage ritual. Domestic partnerships where more commonly practised by same sex couples. In August 1979, gay rights activist Tom Brougham proposed a new category of relationship called "domestic partnership". Domestic partnerships where introduced by certain states so that same sex couples (although not limited to same sex couples) would be more entitled to spousal rights.

Customary Marriages

The Recognition of Customary Marriages Act, 120 of 1998, came into operation on 15 November 2000, and gives full legal recognition to customary marriages in South Africa. Customary marriages can be monogamous or polygamous. Polygamy means that a male older than 18 years of age can marry more than one wife.  A customary marriage can only be concluded in accordance with customary law. Customary law is defined as  the customs and usages traditionally observed among the indigenous African peoples of South Africa and which forms part of the culture of those people. Unfortunately this law still excludes the Hindu and Muslim faiths where polygamy is allowed. Hindu and Muslims must still be married according to the civil union act to have their marriages recognised as legal in South Africa. A man and a woman between whom a customary marriage exists may enter in a civil union marriage (Marriage Act of 1961), if neither of them is a spouse in another subsisting customary marriage with any other person. It is however against civil law to have a more than one wife and therefore you cannot enter into a customary marriage and civil marriage simultaneously.

Common law marriage

Common law marriage sometimes called sui juris marriage, informal marriage or marriage by habit and repute, is said to have occurred when two people have been living together in a domestic partnership for a certain length of time but where never joined in a marriage during a specific marriage ritual or their marriage was never registered in a civil registry. The claim is then that when you in a common law marriage then you can then enjoy the same rights as a married couple or even claim financially from your partner in case of a separation or death. Common law marriage is recognised in some states but it is not recognised under South African law. You can however in certain instances claim your fair share of contributions although you will need to prove that a universal partnership did indeed exist. The negative side of a common law marriage is that in case of death of one partner you will not be able to lay claim to an undocumented inheritance. There will also be no obligation of maintenance unless of course you can prove your partner as the biological parent. The best way to approach a common law marriage will be to have a contract set out stipulating each partner’s liabilities and division of assets and in case of death or separation.
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