November 9, 2012 admin

A brief history of marriage in South Africa


Ever wondered how we got to where we are in our contemporary view of marriage and the rights of women therein? You may be surprised by how far we have come!

585 AD Church Synod of Macon resolves that women are human beings with immortal souls, who

might not be sold and traded (not strictly applicable to SA per se but an indication of the general thinking in Europe at the time.)

Pre-1652 Roman-Dutch law Upon marriage, spouses’ estates are combined and are administered by the husband. Upon divorce, estate split equally (unless “guilty” party ordered to forfeit). Antenuptial contracts allowed couples to amend this structure.

1652 Dutch settlers bring Roman- Dutch law of marriage and divorce to the Cape.

1935 Age of marriage raised from 14 to 18 years for boys and from 12 to 16 years for girls.

1949 Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act passed—marriage between whites and non-whites outlawed.

1953 The first dent in husband’s marital power. Wife married in COP now protected against sale of her immovable property by husband. Also allowed control over her own earnings and to open banking accounts unassisted.

1970 Marriage age for girls decreased to 15 years (this remains the marriage age for girls today). Also requirement of banns and marriage licenses abolished.

1979 Main ground of divorce changed from “guilt” to “irretrievable breakdown”.

1984 Husband’s marital power over wife and joint estate abolished, replaced by “joint administration”. Accrual system introduced for marriages out of COP. New laws do not apply to black people.

1985 Mixed Marriages Act scrapped. Inter-racial marriages now legal again

1988 1984 law reforms extended to “black” civil marriages.

1992 Domicile Act allows married woman to acquire her own legal domicile. Previously she automatically acquired domicile of husband.

1993 Husband’s legal status as “head of the household” is abolished.

1994 Husband’s status as sole guardian of a married couple’s children removed. Now husband and wife both guardians.

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