What are the Three Types of marriage in South Africa?

Understanding the Three Types of Marriages in South Africa

In South Africa, marriage laws recognize three distinct types of marriages: civil marriages, customary marriages, and civil unions.

These unions are governed by different laws and have unique characteristics, reflecting the country's diverse cultural heritage. 🌍

The Role of the Department of Home Affairs

The Department of Home Affairs is responsible for the solemnization and registration of all marriages in South Africa.

Whether you are entering into a civil marriage, a customary marriage, or a civil union, the Department ensures that all legal requirements are met.

Civil Marriages

A civil marriage is a legally recognized union between a man and a woman under the Marriage Act 25 of 1961. This type of marriage is the most common and can be categorized into three forms:

  1. Marriage in Community of Property (COP): This is the default marital regime where all assets and debts are shared equally between spouses unless specified otherwise in an antenuptial contract. πŸ’‘
  2. Marriage Out of Community of Property with Accrual: Each spouse maintains separate estates, but the increase in the value of their estates during the marriage is shared upon divorce or death.
  3. Marriage Out of Community of Property without Accrual: Spouses keep their assets and debts completely separate, and there is no sharing of assets accumulated during the marriage.

Civil Unions

Introduced through the Civil Union Act 17 of 2006, civil unions provide a legal framework for same-sex and opposite-sex couples who prefer a non-religious marital arrangement.

Civil unions confer the same rights and responsibilities as civil marriages and default to a community of property regime unless an antenuptial contract is executed.

Customary Marriages

Customary marriages are celebrated according to indigenous African customary law and are governed by the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act 120 of 1998.

These marriages can be monogamous or polygamous and are automatically in community of property unless an antenuptial contract is arranged.

Prerequisites for Customary Marriages:

  1. Age and Consent: Both parties must be over 18 and consent to the marriage.
  2. Cultural Celebrations: The marriage must be celebrated according to the customs of the community.
  3. Registration: It is advisable to register the marriage with the Department of Home Affairs, although it is not mandatory for the marriage's validity.

The Draft Marriage Bill of 2022

The Draft Marriage Bill of 2022 aims to expand the recognition of marriages to include previously unrecognized religious marriages, such as Hindu and Islamic marriages.

This bill reflects South Africa's commitment to inclusivity and the protection of diverse intimate partnerships.

Domestic Partnerships

Despite the legal recognition of various marriage forms, South African law does not currently recognize domestic partnerships (common-law marriages).

Couples living together without formalizing their relationship through marriage or civil union have no legal rights unless they enter into a cohabitation agreement.

Legal Advice and Assistance

Navigating the legal landscape of marriage in South Africa can be complex.

Whether you are considering a civil marriage, civil union, or customary marriage, it is crucial to understand the legal implications and ensure that all necessary legal documents are in place.

For personalized legal advice, consult with legal professionals specializing in family law.


By understanding the different types of marriages recognized in South Africa, you can make informed decisions that align with your personal, cultural, and legal preferences.

Whether celebrating a traditional union or entering a civil partnership, knowing your rights and responsibilities is key to a harmonious marital journey. πŸ’

For further assistance or to discuss your specific situation, feel free to contact us.

We are here to help you navigate the legalities of marriage and ensure your union is legally secure.