Wedding Frequently Asked QuestionsThe questions we're asked all the time
How do I know my Marriage Officer is legitimate?
Every Marriage Officer has been approved and designated by Home Affairs. They are issued what is called a “designation letter” which confirms their status. In this letter they are given a designation number. This number is usually starts with the letters “BD” and followed by a 5 or 6 digit number. In the case of Civil Union Marriage Officers the number is preceded with “CU” and a 3 digit number.
If you want to be sure your Marriage Officer is legit, ask him for a copy of his Designation number. If you want to take it further than that you can call Home Affairs in Pretoria on 012 406 2685. Give them the BD number of the Marriage Officer’s full name and they can verify it for you.
Do we have to get married in a structure with 4 walls and a roof?
The law states that a marriage may be take place “in” a public office, a church or building used for religious services or a private residence. The law makes no reference to a “roof” or “walls” so it all comes down to the interpretation of the word “in”. Generally speaking it is considered okay or a wedding to take place within the boundaries of the venue. If asked, Home Affairs will state that this must take place inside with open doors.
How do we get married at Home Affairs?
Up until approximately 2002 you could go to court and be married by a Magistrate. This is no longer the case. This role was moved to Home Affairs. Every office has at least one designated Marriage Officer. This is most often a secondary role in that it is not his person’s primary duty to conduct marriages.
Same Sex marriages were formalised in 2006 with the promulgation of the Civil Union Act. This law made is optional for Home Affairs Marriage Officers to decide if they were okay with concluding same sex marriages. This has resulted in many offices refuses to assist same sex couples. This is untenable and in late 2018 regulations were issued stating that Home Affairs were no longer allowed to turn away same sex couples. There is a 2 year period stipulated to rectify this.
Marriages are not concluded every day. Each office has their own schedule of which days they do marriages.
The advantage, and it is the only advantage, of getting married at Home Affairs is that it is free of charge.
Keep in mind that each office tends to have their own variations on the process but generally the process of arranging to be married at a Home Affairs office is as follows:
- You or your partner have to visit your local home affairs with your original IDs and a copy.
- They will check their diary and advise you of the next available day and time.
- On the scheduled date you must arrive with your IDs and two witnesses who must bring their IDs and a copy as well.
- You can bring additional people with but space is generally limited and you will be sharing the space with other couples who have been scheduled to be married on the same day.
- The Marriage Officer will check your IDs and witnesses IDs, fill in the marriage register, take your left thumb print and then ask you each two questions. This is know as the “marriage formula”.
- The register is signed by the two of you, your two witnesses and the Marriage Officer.
- You will be given a manual Marriage Certificate. This is an A5 size certificate with your details hand written on it.
That’s it! Excluding any wait time, which is very likely, the process takes about 15 minutes.
How should I dress for my Home Affairs wedding?
There is no dress code. Most couples make some sort of effort with a suit or dress. But they also come in jeans and overalls. It all depends on circumstance.
Can we get married privately at our home?
You most certainly can.
When will we get our marriage certificate?
Your Marriage Officer will give you will receive a marriage certificate immediately. This is called a “manual” marriage certificate as it is simply a blank certificate with your details handwritten onto it.
There are two other versions of the certificate:
Abridged Certificate: This is a printed version of the one you get on the day. This can be obtained from Home Affairs in a single visit. It might a long visit but you’ll get it nonetheless.
Unabridged Certificate: This has more detail on it and it signed and stamped. This is usually required when doing anything involving another country, i.e. immigrating, obtaining a foreign passport and the like. This certificate can take anything from 4 to 8 weeks to obtain. There is no good reason for this but that is our experience.
If you need help obtaining any of these certificates, get in touch. We can help
What documentation is required to get married?
The following must be presented to the marriage officer at anytime before the wedding:
- Your ID Books
- If you have been married before: Divorce decree
- If you are a widow or widower: Death certificate
- Confirmation of a contract if you have chosen to do one
- If you are not South African, certified copies of your passport picture page and visa page
Can I get married at home under a tree?
Yes, you. Inside or outside you may get married at home.
We want to be married very privately, can you provide witnesses?
There are times when you wish to be married so privately you are not even having your own witnesses present. Yes, in such cases we will provide witnesses to sign the register.
How long does it take to get registered?
Your Marriage Officer is required to submit all documentation to Home Affairs within 3 days of your wedding ceremony. Once submitted they will capture the marriage onto their system.
In our experience they are pretty good with this and will do it the day it is submitted, in some cases the following day. This all means your marriage should be on the system within 3-5 days of your wedding.
Do we need to have an ante-nuptial contract (ANC) to get married?
No. By default your marriage will be registered as “Community of Property” unless you conclude a contract with an attorney.
How is our marriage registered?
On the day of the wedding once the ceremony has been concluded you will sign a marriage register along with the marriage officer and two witnesses. The Marriage Officer will submit this register to Home Affairs who will then enter the information onto the system and you will be classified as married. This process can take up to two months depending on the efficiency of the department.
We need to get married quickly
As long as you have your required documentation, a marriage can be solemnised almost immediately. We have had as little as an hours notice for a marriage registration before so it is certainly possible.
If you’re in a hurry, call us and we’ll work out how we can help.
Do we require a marriage license?
In South Africa there is no requirement to obtain a license prior to getting married.
Who is allowed to be witnesses?
In short, any sober adult can be a witnesses. A marriage requires two witnesses to sign the register along with the people getting married.
Witnesses can be family, friends or complete strangers as long as they are 18 or older.
What is the legal age to be married?
In South Africa the age of majority is 18. This is the legal age to be married. Under 18 requires parental consent.
Can foreigners get married in South Africa
Non South-Africans can certainly get married here. This makes South Africa a wonderful location for a destination wedding.
Your marriage officer will guide you on the documents required but in short you will need:
- Copy of your passport picture and visa page. If you are from a country that does not require a visa for entry a copy of the entry stamp in the passport will be required.
- A letter of non-impediment. This is a letter from your country’s authorities that states you are not already married (or divorced as the case may be.
- A signed BI-31 Form. This will be provided by your marriage officer.
- If you have been married previously a copy of the divorce decree.
You will be provided a marriage certificate on the day you are married by the marriage officer.
How long before our wedding should we book the Marriage Officer?
There is no real fixed rule about this. However, if there is a specific person you want as your Marriage Officer then the sooner you book the better. It comes down to their availability. If you are not particular about who takes care of ceremonials then you will probably be able to find someone up to a week before.
Having said that, I’ve had people call me saying they want to get married the following day. I’m always happy to help in such cases if I’m available.
Most commonly people seem to book their Marriage Officer 6-8 months ahead of their wedding. This is probably a good rule to follow.
How much say do we have in the content of our wedding ceremony?
The short answer is “of course, you can have exactly what you want!”
There is a legal question that a Marriage Officer is required to ask you but he or she can work that into any ceremony that is performed. I guess it is worth knowing that the ceremony and the legal bit are actually separate things but most often are done together. So as long as the legal bit (the question to both of the couple) is taken care of the rest can be whatever you want.
While that is fantastic, because choice always is, it can be daunting to try and write or put together a ceremony from scratch. This is where the experience of the Marriage Officer is very helpful. I always offer two ceremony scripts which gives some contrast and a place to start. I can further suggestions as required but from there a couple are free to edit, change, re-write or conceptualise from scratch.
Again, having said all of this, all marriage officer’s are different and there a certainly some who resist the desire to make ceremonies personal or change what they are used to doing. Establish early on with your marriage officer what his or her approach will be.
What documentation do we get once married?
On the day of the wedding you will be given a “manual marriage certificate” which is a blank form filled in with your details by the Marriage Officer. Once the marriage is registered you will be able to obtain either an abridged or unabridged certificate from Home Affairs. This is not done automatically and would have to be specifically applied for. I can obtain either or both of these for you, should you require it. See below for details.
One of us is South African and the other not, can we get married in South Africa?
Yes you can but there is an additional requirement. Both of you need to attend an interview with the immigration section of home affairs. The interview is fairly short but may have to be set up some weeks in advance. Your marriage officer should give you more information. This regulation was introduced in March 2014 and requirements appear to differ from one home affairs office to the next.
Neither of us are South African – can we still get married?
Yes, absolutely. You will need a document called a “Letter of Non-Impediment”. This is a letter from your consulate or home affairs equivalent which states you are not already married in your country of origin. The Marriage Officer will also need to have copies of your passport visa page and picture page. The marriage officer will have you fill in and sign a form required by Home Affairs in such cases.
So we are ready to get married, what do we do now?
What is the difference between an abridged and unabridged certificate and do we need either?
An abridged certificate is a certificate printed by Home Affairs which contains both your personal details such as full name and ID number as well as the date of the marriage. It is a good idea to get this as it generally more acceptable than just the manual certificate. The unabridged certificate (also known as a full marriage certificate) is also printed by Home Affairs and contains more detailed information. This is the most formal form of certificate and is required if you plan to travel extensively, emigrate or obtain a foreign passport. Additionally if one or both of you are not South African the unabridged certificate will be required to register the marriage in your home country. In short, your unabridged marriage certificate is ultimate proof of your marriage and is usable in all circumstances.
How do Civil Unions (same-sex marriages) work?
Very much the same as heterosexual marriages. The process is governed by a different Act but pretty much all the same rules apply.
Should I use a professional MC for my wedding?
A part of the wedding planning process seems to be to give a role of everyone close.
One of those role’s is the Master of Ceremony and generally this is given to the family member or friend that is most likely to be funny and doesn’t mind talking in front of a crowd.
There is a growing modern trend to hire a professional. There are some very good reasons to consider doing the same.
First up, it is worth considering what the role of the Master of Ceremony is and why it is important. Your wedding day is an 8-10 hour event that is part formal event and part celebration. All together they are a really important day in anyone’s life.
The Master of Ceremony ties all of this together to help make it the perfect day. The MC is the host, the Communicator, the central point of coordination, the advisor. A professional understands the importance of being central while keeping the happy couple the focus of attention.
Plans on the day will always change, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. A true Master of Ceremony thinks on their feet to seamlessly deal with changes and issue as they arise.
There are a couple of difficulties in asking a family member or friend to take on the role: First, as much as it is an honour to be asked, you are asking that person to work on your wedding day. Being the MC is work and done properly it’s a lot of work. Secondly, because they also want to be a part of the celebrations, they will be drinking and partying and who knows how an evening can end when you combine drinking with a microphone!
At every wedding things happen, emotions run high. The Master of Ceremony thinks on his feet and keeps it all smooth.
Choosing the right person to be your MC can be as important as selecting your venue. He keeps your guests engaged, provides information and works with the Planner to control scheduled events for the day.
The MC is generally responsible for greeting guests upon arrival; making sure guests are seated prior to bridal party entrance; introducing bridal party (pronouncing all names correctly); introducing bride and groom; facilitating entertaining activities (speeches, couple’s first dance, cake cutting etc.); ensuring the reception runs smoothly by keeping track of time and schedule
You want an MC who is not boring, who is responsible and able to take control of any situation and who is funny and can think on his feet; is a good communicator; someone you get on with; is confident and who is organised.
What is a "non-denominational" wedding?
While looking for a Marriage Officer you may have come across the term “non-denominational” and perhaps you’re not sure what this actually means.
Typically, which is to say historically, when you got married you went to the priest/rabbi/pastor of your church. You got married within your “denomination”. That is, within your variety of religion.
However, a person might identify as Christian but not specifically Catholic or Anglican or Methodist. Similarly someone may be Jewish but not necessarily Orthodox or Non-Orthodox. Thus the idea of a “non-denominational” wedding ceremony came to be. So while still religious it is not of any specific denomination within that religion.
The term is often used by people who are seeking a non-religious wedding. In this case this would be a non-religious ceremony rather than non-denominational.
Many religious Marriage Officers will offer to do non-denominational or non-religious ceremonies. But also, many will not. So be sure to ask.