oa Comparative and International Law Journal of Southern Africa - The recognition of the Customary Marriages Act of 1998 and its impact on family law in South Africa

Volume 35, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 0010-4051



This article is an overview of the most important provisions of the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act of 1998 which came into operation on 15 November 2000. This Act is one of the most important pieces of legislation dealing with family law since the adoption of the present constitutional dispensation. Before the passing of this Act, the only form of marriage recognised by South African law was a civil marriage which was defined as a voluntary union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others while it lasts. Customary marriages were recognised for certain defined purposes by express legislative enactments. Although legal pluralism in the field of marriage law still exists in South Africa, this· Act represents a bold attempt on the part of the legislature to place customary marriages on the same footing as civil marriages. The Act lays down the requirements for the validity of customary marriages, the proprietary consequences of such marriages, the legal status and capacity of the spouses to these marriages as well as the manner and grounds for the dissolution of customary marriages. The most important effect of this legislation is that it changes the whole field of family law in that customary marriages are accorded the same protection as civil marriages by the South African legal system.

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