Polygamous Marriages in South Africa

Last week we looked at customary marriages, and the concept of common law unions, so we thought that we’d extend the conversation this week to polygamous marriages, which are recognised in terms of South African law. In order for partners in a polygamous marriage to enjoy the protection afforded them by the law certain requirements have to be met.

Former President Jacob Zuma with three of his six wives
Former President Jacob Zuma with three of his six wives

All polygamous marriages that were entered into before the 15th November 2000, the date on which the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act became law, are legally recognised. However all polygamous marriages entered into after this date need to comply with certain requirements in order to be recognised.

In the case of a man seeking a second wife, before he can enter into a polygamous marriage he needs to obtain a court-approved marriage contract. The reason for this is that customary marriages are automatically entered into in community of property, and thus the first wife needs to be given half her share of the marriage assets before her husband can marry again. The aim of the law is to ensure that the first wife’s rights and entitlements are protected.

A husband also needs to get the consent of the first wife in order to take a second wife; i.e. the first wife must agree to the marriage, and not just be informed of her husband’s intention to marry again.

The husband must also draft a new marriage contract which will govern all parties to the polygamous marriage (including the first wife), and this contract must be approved by the court, and registered at the deeds office. If you are involved in a polygamous relationship, and were married on or after the 16th November 2000, it’s essential that your marriage contract is approved by court. Without such approval a second or third wife will not enjoy any protection from the law, only the first wife will be deemed to be legally married.

Image courtesy of www.enca.com

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