“Marriage is a matter of more worth / Than to be dealt in by attorneyship” (Shakespeare)
Wedding Season is well and truly upon us, and if you (or anyone near and dear to you) is busy planning for marriage (note that we are talking “civil marriage” here, “customary marriages” and “civil unions” are beyond the scope of this article), you will have a long “To Do” List to work through. Venue, invites, catering, flowers, service, this, that, the other. The list goes on, and on…
But no matter how long or complicated your Wedding Plan may get, make sure that “Get All the Boring Legal Bits Sorted” is high on your priority list. Yes, this is the not-fun part of all this, and getting to grips with all the legal niceties is a chore.
But whilst we can all agree with Shakespeare’s observation that “Marriage is a matter of more worth / Than to be dealt in by attorneyship”, understanding and managing the legal consequences of marriage remains absolutely vital.
So, where to start? Ask your lawyer three questions –
1. “Do we need an ANC?”
Whether you need an ANC (antenuptial contract), and if so, what should be in it, will depend in part on which “marital regime” you choose.
This is a critical decision. Which regime you choose now (and you must choose before you marry) will affect you and your family long after the ink dries on your marriage certificate. It will affect all of you throughout your marriage, and it will affect everyone when your marriage eventually comes to an end (whether by divorce or death – both grim prospects, but realities that must be faced).
Our law presents you with three alternatives, and professional assistance is essential here because your choice involves a complex mix of individual preference, circumstance, and personal and financial status –
- Marriage in community of property: All of your assets and liabilities are merged into one “joint estate” in which each of you has an undivided half share. On divorce or death the joint estate (including any profit or loss) is split equally between you, regardless of what each of you brought into the marriage or contributed to it thereafter. This is the “default” regime – so you will automatically be married in community of property if you don’t specify otherwise in an ANC executed before you marry. This regime will suit some couples, but most will be advised to rather choose one of the other options (b or c below).
- Marriage out of community of property without the accrual system: Your own assets and liabilities, both what you bring in and what you acquire during the marriage, remain exclusively yours to do with as you wish. Note here that the “accrual system” (see option c below) will apply to you unless your ANC specifically excludes it.
- Marriage out of community of property with the accrual system: As with the previous option, your own assets and liabilities remain solely yours. On divorce or death you share equally in the “accrual” (growth) of your assets (with a few exceptions) during the marriage.
P.S. Already married? As a side note, if you happen to be married already and you now want to change your marital regime – perhaps you have only now found out that you are by default married in community of property and you realise what a mistake that was in your case – you may still be able to fix things. Ask your lawyer if you might be able to enter into a postnuptial contract. You are in for an expensive court application and requirements apply, so rather make the right choice before you marry.
2. “Are our wills in order?”
Marriage is one of those life events that focuses the mind on how important it is to have valid wills (or perhaps one “joint will”) in place. Existing wills need immediate review. Of course, your will (“Last Will and Testament”) is only the first step in a full estate planning exercise, but it is the foundational step, so prioritise it.
Don’t be tempted to procrastinate on this one – as the old saying has it “Death Knocks at All Doors”, and often it knocks without warning. There’s no other way to ensure that your loved ones will be fully protected and catered for after you are gone.
3. “Can we choose new surnames?”
As a man, you can only change your surname by application to DHA (the Department of Home Affairs) but as a woman you can automatically –
- Take your husband’s surname, or
- Revert to or retain your maiden surname or any other prior surname, or
- Join your surname with your husband’s as a double-barreled surname.
Ask about the legal ramifications of your choice and tell the marriage officer upfront what your choice is so that your marriage certificate, marriage register and National Population Register all reflect your married name correctly.
Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.