Legally Recognised Marriages 

Learn about the formalities and requirements that you will have to comply with on the day of marriage and understand the procedural, application and registration processes of marriages.


Marriage is an exciting adventure, especially when both parties are deeply in love with one another. However, marriages come with responsibilities and serious legal consequences that must be carefully considered by both parties. For instance, both parties need to understand that a marriage can impose restraints as to when a person is entitled to sell their property without the consent of the other and in the case of a divorce, how they will be protected, if protected at all. 

In terms of South African law, parties can be married in terms of either of three different processes: 

  1.     Civil marriages;
  2.     Customary law marriages;or
  3.     Civil unions. 

Civil Marriage

What should a person do before getting married? 

In order to enter into a civil marriage at the Department of Home Affairs, the parties need to book a date for their marriage first. The following documents will be required:

  1.   Two passport size photos of each person;
  2.   If one of the parties is a foreign national, they will be required to have a letter of confirmation of their marital status from their government; and
  3.   The ID documents of both parties.

If one of the parties does not have an ID, they will be required to complete the Declaration for the purpose of marriage form (DHA-31). Once the date has been booked, the official will issue a receipt with the date and time of the marriage ceremony attached.

What is required on the day of marriage?

On the date of the marriage ceremony, the following requirements and procedures must be fulfilled: 

  1.     The ID documents of each of the persons getting married. Note: If one of the parties is a foreign national, then both parties will have to bring their passports instead;
  2.     A copy of the Divorce Order, if one of the parties to the marriage was previously married but subsequently divorced. Note: If any of the parties is widowed, the deceased spouse’s Death Certificate is needed;
  3.     Two witnesses must be present with their ID documents or, where a witness is a foreign national, their passport;
  4.     The parties must express their decision of whether to keep or change their names; and
  5.     The parties must declare the Marital Regime that they are getting married into.

Note: Marriages are usually concluded in a religious hall (e.g. a church or a temple)or a public office or private home with open doors. However, in the case of injury or illness, parties may also get married in a hospital.

After the celebration of a marriage, two witnesses and the marriage officer must sign an official marriage register. The marriage officer will then issue a marriage certificate to the parties and will submit the marriage register to the Department of Home Affairs, where the marriage will be officially recorded. They will receive an abridged Marriage Certificate which is handwritten. This Marriage Certificate is valid in terms of the law. However, if the parties want an unabridged typed certificate, they will be required to pay a fee of R 75 and submit their application.

Customary Marriage

A customary marriage is one that is negotiated, celebrated and concluded according to the rules of African Customary Law. This does not include marriages in accordance with Hindu, Muslim or other religious rites. The requirements of a customary law marriage are:  

  1. The marriage must be negotiated, celebrated  and concluded in accordance with African Customary Law;
  2. The parties must be over the age of 18 years old;
  3. Both parties must consent to the marriage; and
  4. The parties cannot be blood relatives.

Note: Dowry (lobolo) is not a requirement, but is considered part of the practice of Customary law.

How does a person register a customary marriage?

The following people must be present at a customary law marriage in order to get it legally registered:

  1. Both parties, with their valid ID documents and lobola agreement if applicable;
  2. One witnesses from the bride’s family;
  3. One witnesses from the groom’s family; and 
  4. A representative of each family. 

Note: If a person is involved in a polygynous marriage (involving more than one spouse), they will have to get married to all the partners under Customary Law. If one partner is married in terms of Civil Law, all of the other marriages will be deemed void.

When can a person register their customary marriage?

Customary marriages must be registered within three months of taking place at the Department of Home Affairs or through a designated traditional leader. 

Note: If a minor enters into a marriage, the consent of their legal guardian is needed.

Civil Union

The Civil Union Act, allows anyone regardless of their sexual orientation to marry either through civil union, a civil marriage or a customary marriage. 

Civil unions may be conducted by:

  1. Marriage officers;
  2. Designated officers employed by the Department of Home Affairs. 

At least two competent witnesses must be present at the ceremony of a civil union in order to officiate it. 

Who can enter into a civil union?

The civil union requires the following:

  1. Both parties must be over the age of 18 years old;and 
  2. Both parties must not be married in terms of any other Act. 

What are the requirements and formalities of a civil union?

In order to enter into a civil union, the following documents are required: 

  1. The ID documents of each of the persons getting married. Note: If a foreign national marries a South African citizen then both parties will need to present their passports; 
  2. The parties must indicate to the registrar whether or not they are entering into a Civil Union marriage or a Civil Union partnership; and
  3. A copy of the Divorce Order if one of the partners was previously married but subsequently divorced.


If any of the required documents cannot be produced, one of the partners must submit an affidavit confirming the documents cannot be made available for the purpose of concluding the Civil Union