A church, priest and wedding dress do not a marriage make
Pretoria - You can have a wedding ceremony, in a wedding dress in a church with a minister’s blessing… but that does not necessarily mean you are legally married.
This emerged during a court case in which a Pretoria woman sought continued maintenance from her ex-husband who believed he no longer was liable to pay as she had “remarried”.
The woman and her new partner had a wedding ceremony, after which she referred to him as her “husband” on Facebook, but claims it was not really a marriage, only a ceremony to receive God’s blessing on her new relationship.
The couple never signed a wedding register and the “marriage” was not officially registered with the Department of Home Affairs.
However, her ex, seeing the new “husband” on Facebook, stopped paying her maintenance of R10 000 a month which he said he was only obliged to pay if she did not remarry.
The woman held him in contempt and the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, ruled in her favour, declaring that the ceremony was not an official marriage and her ex-husband therefore violated the maintenance agreement.
The aggrieved ex turned to the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein which confirmed the earlier court ruling that the ceremony was not a marriage, despite having taken place in the Dutch Reformed Church in Montana in front of a minister.
The judges overturned the contempt of court order against the ex-husband noting that as lay person, he had accepted the advice of his lawyer to stop paying maintenance as he believed it was a true marriage.
By the time the re-marriage issue reached the courts, the wife and her partner had ended their relationship, meaning that the ex-husband had to continue paying her maintenance anyway.
The parties meanwhile called a truce and reached a settlement agreement, confirmed by the appeal court, in terms of which the ex-husband would continue to pay his ex-wife R10 000 a month, until she either remarries or dies.
They have added another clause however that he would no longer be obliged to support her should she cohabit with another man in a common law marriage.
In the SCA judgment, the parties were only identified by their initials, as the matter concerns family law.
The unhappy saga began a month after the woman and her ex-husband were divorced in 2017.
As she is a Christian, the woman conducted a “wedding” ceremony with her new partner to legitimise their union.
She insisted she only wanted a blessing so the relationship was not seen as “sinful”.
One of the SCA judges remarked that it was unclear how an avowedly ‘sinful’ relationship could be ‘legalised’ before God.
The ex-husband knew nothing of the “wedding” until he saw pictures on Facebook.
He stopped paying maintenance on the assumption that the new husband could take care of his ex-wife.
The minister who conducted the ceremony, said it was not solemnised in terms of the Marriage Act, and he also did not pronounce the couple to be “husband and wife” as is traditionally the case with a real marriage.
The fifth judge, Tati Makgoka, delivered a dissenting judgment in which he said “… but for the non-completion of the marriage register, it was a complete marriage ceremony”.
He said the law was manipulated by the woman, aided by the minister so that the ex-husband would have to continue to support her even though, at the time, she had a new partner.
“This, in my view, is a contrived and disingenuous scheme which a court should frown upon, instead of giving it its imprimatur,” he said.