Marriage Officer Q&A

Picking a minister to officiate your wedding ceremony is no small task. Apart from finding the right individual who suits both your personalities and tastes, you probably have a couple of questions too regarding the process and paperwork. Do not fear, it is not as complicated as you might think!

We have asked Ava and Symi from Tie the Knot Cape Town, Overberg and Beyond to answer some of the most common questions he gets from couples.

It’s official! The two of you are set to start a new chapter in your life together, and the words forever, love, and marriage don’t scare you all that much anymore. Let’s look at everything that has to do with the Marriage Officer who gets to solemnize your union.

Photo by Justin and Simone Photography

Who can act as your celebrant?

The short answer? Anybody at all.

The long answer goes like this. The marriage celebration on the day is a private celebration. You could stand on a rock in the ocean and speak your own words too if it pleases you. The guidelines about making it official though, have to do with two things. The first is the church or spiritual organization to which you may belong, and the second is the law of the land.

If you want your marriage recognized by your church or temple or mosque, then you have to play by the rules of the faith. That may mean that you go for premarital counseling, that you ask your own spiritual leader that fits into the hierarchy to do your celebration, and that you follow the liturgical or traditional requirements of your faith.

However, EVERY marriage in South Africa is really a Civil Marriage. Civil Marriage means that it is governed by the laws of the land, rather than the rules of the religious organization. So let’s say that you are not phased by the requirements of a specific faith, and let’s say you’ve figured out that the legalities and the celebration are two separate things. Then – really, anybody can do the ceremony part. The legalities however need to be solemnized by a Marriage Officer who is registered and in good standing with the Department of Home Affairs.

Photo by Justin and Simone Photography

What documents do we need to get married?

Think of it this way, the proof that government needs to register your union needs to include a trustworthy proof of identity, and trustworthy proof that you’re not married to someone else. That’s pretty simple, right?

So if you are both South African citizens, all you’re going to need are certified copies of your ID.
If either of you used to be married to someone else, the dissolution of that commitment needs to be proven with either a death certificate of the previous partner or a copy of the divorce decree that ended the marriage.

As with every other document submitted to a bank or a government department, everything must be certified as being a true copy of the original. Your Marriage Officer is a Commissioner of Oaths and CAN do the certification for you if you also present them with the original document. NO Commissioner of Oaths may charge for certifications at any time. If they do, smile, collect your paperwork and turn on your heel to walk away.

Some specific geographic areas in South Africa require the partners to get a HANIS verification, there are a few services that do this for you, scanning your fingerprint and giving you a printout that you are you and stating whether you’re single. Check with your marriage officer and stick to what they need to register your marriage at the DHA branch to which they are assigned.

Okay – then, let’s say one of you is a ZA Citizen or permanent resident, and the other is a Foreign National. Here is probably the trickiest marriage you can do. You would need a Letter of Non-Impediment, also known as a Letter of Single Status from your country or countries of origin. This should not be more than 3 months old, and as it comes from one government to another, it should be apostilled. Speak to your marriage officer, and also give the DHA toll-free number a shout, as not all countries issue this letter, and some countries will need the South African partner’s Birth Certificate to be able to generate this letter from their own Home offices. You will have more joy in confirming the details when you speak to the Consul / Embassy of your country of origin if you are already in South Africa.

This configuration – of one South African citizen or permanent resident, and one foreign national partner, is the only grouping that needs to go for an immigration interview. Speak to your Marriage Officer to discuss the timing of the legalities, the letter of intent to marry (which they need to create for you), and other details.

Lastly – what if we’re two Foreign nationals? Again, the same details apply, proof of identity, proof of single status, and that pesky Apostille Stamp to prove that it’s legitimate information from one government to another.

Please note that if your documents from your country of origin do NOT include an English version on the document itself, you will need to get an OFFICIAL translator to issue an additional document showing the translation and BOTH of the documents will need to be Apostilled.

Photo by ZaraZoo Photography

What’s the deal with In community or out of community of property? What does it mean and what do we need to do about it?

Every single marriage in the Country is a union IN community of property. What does that mean? It means that everything that’s theirs is theirs, and everything that’s yours is also theirs. It means that you are one financial persona under the law, the law simply stops seeing you both as functional financial adults and lumps you into one heap in terms of your income, possessions and your financial responsibilities.

How do you stay two individuals each able to transact, earn and own things on your own? You enter into a prenuptial agreement. A prenup is NOT just for when you get divorced, to be honest, that’s just one of the side uses of this bit of documentation. It really helps you to guard yourselves against creditors and gives each of you the right to transact and own things in your own right. Especially if you are entrepreneurs, or if you want to own more than one property between the two of you, it’s imperative that you do the work here.

Please talk to your own lawyers for a quote, and then also speak to your Marriage Officer to point you in the direction of people they often see their couples use. We’ve seen quotes for a simple document come in at the usual rate, and then at double, and at triple that rate. So don’t skimp on comparative quotes. No, you can’t just sit down and draft your own one off the internet. The reason is that the notarizing attorney also takes responsibility for submitting your docs to the Deeds Office within 3 months. What’s also important is that the contract is SIGNED BEFORE YOUR WEDDING. Even if the date is exactly the same, the contract MUST be in place BEFORE you sign the Wedding Register.

If that’s not the case, you will be getting an attorney to go to the High Court, to appeal the terms of your marriage, and to establish a Post Nuptial Agreement. The price of one of those is roughly ten times the price of a Pre Nuptial Agreement, and you will have to explain to the High Court that you are not trying to commit fraud, but that you suck at following directions.

Do we get proof of our marriage, when is it legal?

So the marriage itself is solemnized by your Marriage Officer, meaning they ask the legal questions. It goes roughly like this: “THIS person, do you declare that as far as you know there is no lawful impediment against your proposed marriage to THAT person, and do you declare that you call everyone here present as a witness to this union.”

The moment you both have said yes, the Marriage Officer declares you LAWFULLY MARRIED. That is the moment of the official start of your marriage. Going off to sign some paperwork and stick a fingerprint down in triplicate is simply paperwork. Handing in the documentation for capturing on the population register is also just that – paperwork.

The Department of Home Affairs is the only institute that may issue the Abridged or Unabridged marriage certificate. There are hand-written ones with a serial number floating around, but they are frowned upon by DHA as there’s such a lot of fraud all over the show.

The price of these changes from time to time, but seen in the budget of your wedding, it’s a tiny amount. Note that if you don’t want to stand in queues by yourself, and go into public offices, then you need to have a look on the internet and find a company that assists you with the documents. They charge in thousands, but it takes the waiting time down from a year to three years, to roughly five to nine weeks. On the day, you will get a hand-written Registration certificate, which is legal proof inside South Africa that you are married. Your Marriage Officer then has a set number of days to get the documents to their DHA Branch for capturing, but the process itself may take a couple of weeks.

AFTER your marriage register has been handed in at the Department of Home Affairs, and stamped and signed, your Marriage Officer will send you your copy of this (provided they are working with a triplicate book) via courier or mail. You can choose, and you will be billed accordingly. They would probably also send you a photo of the register after the DHA official stamped and signed it, so you have proof that the submission has been completed. Chat to them to hear how they do their admin.

We’re getting a Civil Union Marriage as a same-sex couple. Will this be recognized in other countries?

Whoot! Every marriage in South Africa is as good as a marriage anywhere else in the world, in terms of recognition and legal consequence. However, the country you are emigrating to, or your country of origin may not be so tolerant of other genders and sexual orientations as the South African Constitution. So you may have hassles registering your same-sex marriage in another country.

In the United Kingdom, Civil Union Partnerships are recognized, so you could have a Civil Union Partnership in South Africa, which you then register in the UK as a Partnership, rather than a marriage.

Do we have to speak in the ceremony? Must we say honour and obey?

Ah – thank you for asking. NO. The legal questions are the ones stated above, which simply confirm that you are legally allowed to enter into the marriage and that you call on your guests to witness the commitment. The vows part is managed by your religious organization, so there may be standard liturgical things that your Marriage Officer has to say or ask. If you don’t want those things in there, and your Marriage Officer is not okay with deviating from the liturgy, then find someone else to do the ceremony, and get a legal marriage officer to do the legalities.

It is, however, a grand idea to speak your intentions or promises, or vows to your partner on the day. A creative marriage officer will figure out a way to make that part of the verbal agreement (saying YES!), and make the entire thing feel smooth and uncomplicated.

Do we have to exchange rings?

Heck, no. You can exchange tattoos, watches, pendants, body piercings, love letters, or anything else that you like. It really is about the significance for YOU as a couple. Not all marriage officers may be open to you doing weird things, so keep looking until you find such a person who really “gets” you.

What is a good marriage officer, and what is a great marriage officer?

A mediocre or even a good marriage officer is someone who is clear about the requirements, gets to the venue on time, does the ceremony in the kind of vibe that you wanted, and manages to submit the docs to the Department of Home Affairs.

A Great Marriage officer is one who will speak with you and answer your questions even before money changes hands. It’s someone who spends the time to get to know the two of you, who supports you throughout the process, translates the legal speak and the family expectations for you into bite-sized chunks, and creates a once-off ceremony for you.

They stay in touch with you afterward until, at the very least, you have your original marriage register in your hand or your unabridged marriage certificate has been successfully and correctly processed by DHA.

They don’t have a nervous twitch when you discuss the finer detail of your ceremony, so they would be non-judgemental and open whether you’re gay or straight, they would totally cope with you wanting to include your kids or pets in the ceremony, they would be “lekker” when you want to have your hands bound with ribbons in handfasting and they would not flinch if you want to get collared or enter into a blood oath. What I’m trying to say is that these folks need to understand that this is YOUR day, and it’s about YOU, not about them, their faith, their ideas, their relationships, or their morals and values.

Probably the best indication of a good marriage officer is getting an exciting report from a friend or family member about a wedding they attended, or simply seeing a marriage solemnized for yourself.
If it’s still the honour and obey version, and it’s not your vibe, don’t do it.

My family expects us to do a religious ceremony, and to invite family members, or one of our parents refuses to be there if the other parent’s new partner is going to attend. What do we do? This may sound like something that doesn’t have anything to do with your officiant, but I disagree. Your celebrant should be in YOUR team, not in someone else’s pocket or afraid of how your family dynamics work.

So – the ceremony should reflect the two of you, the format should reflect the two of you, and the officiant should be able to navigate the ceremony without offending anyone (even if there are two different faiths represented in your two families). This is really at the very core of their job for the day.
The celebrant should also be a strong support system for you to make the choices that are good for you two, rather than becoming an event for your family to have a showdown.

No officiant should jump up and confront your family members, but they must support you in making the choices, and in getting the celebration that acknowledges you as a new family, as a new patriarch/matriarch of your own future. They must be able to gracefully, and wisely create your celebration in such a way that your families all shed a tear, all share a laugh, and all feel validated and inspired.

Must we attend premarital classes?

Gosh. You’re grown-ups, right? Then. Your mileage may vary on this topic, so the short answer is No. But if you are getting married in a specific spiritual discipline, THEY may require you to go through a kind of orientation process.

However, if you feel like you’d like to dig deep and engage with one another in a new way, maybe add some marital health and safety checks into your day, or even talk about some things that worry you about marriage in general, then have a look for marital enrichment programs.

Some therapists/coaches/counselors may tell you they only work to fix problems, not to work on enriching your relationship. Unless you have a list of things you actually want to change before you commit to marriage, keep looking for someone who adds the fun, the depth, and the eternal honeymoon to your relationship.

If you are looking to change things even before you start, you may not be 100% ready to commit in the first place, so it may be a good idea to slow down on the marriage front and re-evaluate your trajectory for a couple of weeks or months. We often leave ourselves breadcrumbs that need some following if we are afraid to shout about our doubts. Be sensitive to your own voice.

Lastly, while there is absolutely no judgement for people who base a couple’s intervention on their faith, religious beliefs, or a specific philosophy, it may be a good idea to engage with someone who works to attain a specific mindset, or a specific “fix” specifically in a relationship, rather than a generic process of trying to introduce spiritual beliefs or foundations.

The final word

You have three days in your life, that pivot your entire journey, the first is the day you are born and the last, is the day you exit the stage. The one somewhere about a quarter way or so in, over which you have actual control, is your wedding day.

This day is one of those huge influencers in your life, this relationship is at the core of what you will achieve in your lifetime, and the kind of life you could dream about.

Yes – you may be rich and poor and have a property and not have a property and have businesses and be successful or struggle, and you may have kids and grandchildren and a huge extended group of friends or you may be a quiet pioneer in the tundra with your cottage core people. Those achievements and blessings are sometimes temporary, and sometimes the challenges are fleeting. But this holds true: Your choice of partner, and your choice of life, is mostly set in this event and will open the possibilities for the experience you will have of your human existence. Everything you exclude from this sphere of possibilities, will simply.never.happen.

So while it’s easy to choose someone who pleases your extended family, or whom your parents have asked to get, or to swop the vegan chocolate cake for a cheese tower because your cousin had one, or to put concealer on the tattoos you both got because your families would judge you.

Your wedding day is a statement of intent, and of conviction.
Of choosing THIS human, THIS life of possibility, THESE terms of engagement.
Make it significant to you two.
Make it honourable and vulnerable and real.
Make it respectful and kind, but do not compromise on anything that is important to you two, for anyone.

Featured image by Catherine Mac