Answer to a question from a reader

Can I go alone to register our customary marriage 15 years after lobola was paid?

The short answer

Yes, either spouse or both spouses can register the customary marriage at Home Affairs - but try to get your husband to come along.

The whole question

Dear Athalie

Can I go without my husband to register our customary marriage of 15 years at Home Affairs, if I have our lobola letter? He doesn't want to go with me.

The long answer

Yes, either spouse or both spouses can register the customary marriage at Home Affairs in terms of section 4(2) of the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act of 1998. says that “either spouse may apply to the registration officer in the prescribed form for the registration of their customary marriage and must furnish the registering officer with the prescribed information and any additional information which the registering officer may require to satisfy themselves as to the existence of the marriage.”

Section (4)(4)(a) of the Act states that a registering officer must, if satisfied that the spouses concluded a valid customary marriage, register the marriage by recording the identity of the spouses, the date of the marriage, any lobola agreed to and any other particulars prescribed. goes on to explain that “the registration of a customary marriage is particularly important as it makes it easier to obtain maintenance, to claim a right to the assets of a deceased spouse, to prove rights to a deceased estate, and for a wife to enforce her property rights if her husband takes other wives.”

A customary marriage is supposed to be registered within three months, but from time to time, the Minister of Home Affairs announces a new deadline or cut off point for registering a customary marriage in the Government Gazette, since the Act came into force after 2000. 

The latest extension is in Government Gazette 42622 of 8 August 2019 which says that the Minister has extended the deadline for registering a customary marriage to 30 June 2024.

Section 4(9) of the Act confirms that a customary marriage is still valid, even if it is not registered. But it is harder to prove its existence to Home Affairs. And after an interval of 15 years, you should bring as much proof as you can, besides the lobola letter. 

This is what the Home Affairs website says:

“The following people should present themselves at either a Home Affairs office or a traditional leader in order to register a customary marriage:

  • the two spouses (with copies of their valid identity books and a lobola agreement, if available);

  • at least one witness from the bride’s family;

  • at least one witness from the groom’s family;

  • and/or the representative of each of the families.

Customary marriages are registered by completing BI-1699 and paying the required fees. An acknowledgement of receipt BI-1700 will then be issued by the Department.”

Although you are legally entitled to go alone to Home Affairs to register your marriage, it may be worth trying to persuade your husband to go with you, as Home Affairs officials may be less willing to register it after so many years. You should also take with you any photos of the wedding ceremony you may have, and perhaps signed statements or affidavits from witnesses and friends who attended and can state that your marriage exists.

The reason it is important to register the marriage at Home Affairs is that it is the only way you can get a marriage certificate. If either spouse dies, the Master of the High Court will usually require a marriage certificate as proof of the marriage when administering the estate. If Home Affairs doesn’t give you the marriage certificate, you can go to court to get a court order to compel Home Affairs to issue the certificate, but going to court would require a lawyer which is expensive.

Wishing you the best,

Answered on Feb. 9, 2023, 9:36 a.m.

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