Tuesday 31 May 2022


THE new Marriages Act became law on Friday, a piece of legislation that brings all marriage laws together, makes all marriages equal and finally provides a way to transform a registered customary union into a civil marriage, while making it clear that child marriages are totally banned with those arranging or solemnising such marriages facing five years in jail.

The Act had a rough passage through Parliament over the issue of lobola, which will now for practical purposes need to be paid in solemnised customary unions where the district custom has this, but possibly not in unregistered customary unions that are later registered without solemnisation.

But eventually a formula for lobola was found, the Act passed both Houses and has been assented to by President Mnangagwa and gazetted as law on Friday last week.

Lobola has never been a factor in civil law and church law marriages and such marriages remain a valid option for anyone not wanting to pay lobola

All marriages in Zimbabwe are now equal, with a single register of marriages maintained by a single Registrar of Marriages. But there are distinct differences between civil marriages and customary marriages, the main one being that a customary marriage is potentially polygamous with different ways of solemnising these marriages.

Besides the two types of marriage, there is a civil partnership. This is the informal living together of a couple in a genuine domestic basis but without any marriage whatsoever.

This determines the rights and obligations of the couple, and especially the new Act makes it clear, any property or assets acquired during the partnership will be distributed in the same way that property is distributed when a married couple divorces, using the same law.

In all marriages and civil partnerships, both partners have to be aged 18 or over and there has to be explicit agreement by both partners. Underage marriages and forced marriages see those involved, except the child or the forced partner, facing criminal charges and jail terms of up to five years.

The Act goes into some detail on marriages and potential marriages or near marriages to ensure that the age and active consent rules apply in anything that vaguely resembles a marriage.

The partners in all marriages whatsoever have equal rights and obligations both during the subsistence of the marriage and at any dissolution. This is being backed by amendments to the Child Protection Act which will make it clear that both parents have equal rights when it comes to children. This journey to full legal equality has taken some time in almost all cultures.

While there is no change, except the age limit, in the law governing civil law marriages, the law on registering or solemnising customary unions has undergone a major revision so that these are now solemnised by magistrates or the local chief, rather than the district administrators, and a monogamous couple in a customary marriage can convert this into a civil marriage if they wish, pulling down the colonial brick wall between the two types of marriages.

Even unregistered customary unions, a very common way of getting married in Zimbabwe, now have to be registered within three months of the creation of the union if the couple does not wish to go through the solemnisation process before a magistrate or chief.

Failure to register the union though does not affect the validity of the marriage at customary law with regard to the status, guardianship, custody and succession rights of children of the union.

The main result of all these changes should see major practical and conceptual changes in how Zimbabweans get married. In colonial times people were locked into either a customary marriage, that had to be registered at the office of the native or district commissioner, or the civil law marriage, registered when the marriage ceremony took place.

After independence, most couples actually wanted to be married under both customary law and civil law. Because of the rigid divide, the custom grew up of having a customary marriage first, but not registering this, and then having the civil law marriage later, but registering that one.

Now even unregistered customary unions have to be registered, although they should be solemnised before a magistrate or a chief, but those in a monogamous customary marriage can later contract a civil law marriage, and so people can now have the double ceremonies under the two types of marriage laws.

While magistrates are automatically marriage officers, chiefs become marriage officers for customary marriages in the district where they hold office and, as at present, ministers of religion can be licensed to be marriage officers for civil law marriages, where the law is very similar to most church laws so there is no conflict: Herald


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