Marriage Act, 1961 (South Africa)

Marriage Act, 1961
Act to consolidate and amend the laws relating to the solemnization of marriages and matters incidental thereto.
Citation Act No. 25 of 1961
Territorial extent South Africa
Enacted by Parliament of South Africa
Date assented to 19 April 1961
Date commenced 1 January 1962
Related legislation
Civil Union Act, 2006
Status: In force

The Marriage Act, 1961 (Act No. 25 of 1961) is an act of the Parliament of South Africa governing the solemnisation and registration of marriages in South Africa. It does not deal with the dissolution of marriages, which is governed by the Divorce Act, 1979, or with matrimonial property regimes and the financial consequences of marriage, which are governed by the Matrimonial Property Act, 1984. Some issues relating to marriage remain governed by the Roman-Dutch common law because they have never been addressed by Parliament.

The Marriage Act is not the only law under which a marriage may be contracted. The Recognition of Customary Marriages Act, 1998 recognises marriages under African customary law as valid marriages, though they are not legally identical to marriages under the Marriage Act. The Civil Union Act, 2006 allows for inter alia same-sex marriages which are legally equivalent to marriages under the Marriage Act.

Before 1961, the law of marriage in South Africa was based on the law of the four colonies that had been united in the Union of South Africa, and therefore differed between the provinces. The Marriage Act was enacted to consolidate the law and make it uniform across the country. The act has been amended several times since 1961, most notably in 1970 when banns of marriage were abolished.

Marriage officers

A marriage may be performed only by a marriage officer. All magistrates and justices of the peace are automatically marriage officers. The Minister of Home Affairs (or an official authorised to act on behalf of the Minister) can appoint other civil service employees as marriage officers. In practice, many employees in local offices of the Department of Home Affairs are appointed as marriage officers.

The Minister of Home Affairs can also appoint ministers of religion or other religious leaders as marriage officers. The text of the Marriage Act limits these appointments to Christian, Jewish or Muslim clergy or clergy of "an Indian religion". (Ministers of other religions can be appointed marriage officers under the Civil Union Act.) A religious marriage officer may refuse to perform a marriage that does not comply with his or her religion's doctrines.

When a person who is not legally a marriage officer acts as one, under a good faith belief that he or she is one, the Minister of Home Affairs can retrospectively validate the marriages performed by him or her. Similarly, when a marriage is performed by a person who is not a marriage officer, but the spouses had a good faith belief that he or she was one, the Minister may retrospectively validate the marriage.

Marriage procedure

Each party to the marriage must provide the marriage officer with his or her South African identity document or an affidavit detailing his or her identity. Since 1970, it has not been necessary to publish banns or obtain a licence, but anyone objecting to a marriage may submit an objection in writing with the marriage officer. If there is an objection, the officer must investigate it and decide whether or not the marriage would be lawful.

A marriage may be performed at any time, but a marriage officer may refuse to do so before eight in the morning or after four in the afternoon. Marriages may only be performed in religious buildings, government offices, or private homes; in all cases the doors of the building must be open. Other locations may be used if one of the parties is seriously ill or injured. Two witnesses must be present. Proxy marriages are not permitted.

The act prescribes a marriage formula to be spoken by the officer, unless their religion prescribes another formula. The officer asks each of the parties:

Do you, [name], declare that as far as you know there is no lawful impediment to your proposed marriage with [name] here present, and that you call all here present to witness that you take [name] as your lawful [wife/husband]?

When each of them has answered "Yes," and have joined hands, the official announces:

I declare that [name] and [name] here present have been lawfully married.

The officer, the spouses and the witnesses then sign the marriage register, which is sent to the Department of Home Affairs to be recorded.

A marriage officer may not demand any payment for performing a marriage, but a religious clergyman may accept a fee for blessing the marriage.

Marriageable age

A person under the age of majority, which was reduced from 21 to 18 by the Children's Act, 2005, cannot marry without the consent of his or her parents or legal guardian. If there are no parents or guardian or for some reason they cannot give consent, a magistrate (acting as a commissioner of child welfare) may grant consent. If the parent, guardian or magistrate refuses consent, a judge of the High Court may grant consent if it is in the interests of the minor.

Further to the requirement for parental consent, no boy under 18 or girl under 15 can marry without the special consent of the Minister of Home Affairs (or an official authorised to act on behalf of the Minister). (This discrimination on the basis of sex may be unconstitutional but has not yet been challenged.)

Offences and penalties

A marriage officer who knowingly performs a marriage which he is legally prohibited, and a person who is not a marriage officer but purports to perform a marriage, can be fined up to R400 and imprisoned for up to one year. A marriage officer who violates other provisions of the Marriage Act can be fined up to R100. A person who makes a false statement for the purpose of marriage can be sentenced as if he or she had committed perjury.


See also

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