New Marriage Law Ushers In Radical Changes

the herald

Fidelis Munyoro Grand Court Reporter

THE new Marriage Act signed into law by President Mnangagwa in May this year after passing through the House of Assembly and the Senate has been a huge relief for women as the law can now sufficiently protect their property rights in case of divorce or death of the other, legal experts have said.

The new Marriage Act, which consolidates all marriage laws under one roof, allowing a registered customary union to be converted into a civil marriage, has yet to come into force. The president must fix the date by notice in the Government Gazette.

This Act brought sweeping changes to marriage laws in Zimbabwe, with the Marriage Act and the Customary Marriages Act being repealed, replaced and extended by the Marriages Act.

In addition to resetting the minimum age of marriage to 18 and insisting that, regardless of the type of marriage, both parties must give full consent, the new law also introduces a deemed civil partnership when ‘a couple lives together, and important when it comes to its termination.

Also, he recognizes an unregistered common law union as a marriage although he wants it registered.

Civil partnership is new and concerns a man and a woman living together without payment of lobola or any ceremony or registration, i.e. cohabiting (small houses and others), and it does not matter whether one or both involved are married to someone else. This also applies to boyfriends and girlfriends living together (kuchaya mapoto).

Although it is not a marriage, it is recognized only for the purpose of determining rights in the event of death or dissolution of the relationship. The parties can move into an unregistered common law union if the payment of lobola is made and if the other conditions of these unions are met.

Without legal protection, many women could find themselves homeless or without means of support after their marriage ends or if their husband dies.

The new law clarifies that any property or assets acquired during the partnership will be distributed in the same manner as property is distributed when a married couple divorces using the same law.

Legal experts who spoke to The Herald yesterday said the amendments to the Marriage Act have ushered in a new era of choice in marriage or union and provide adequate protection for women who have long been disadvantaged.

South African legal expert, Mr. Tendai Toto, said the right to found a family is one of the freedoms that have been affected, including equality before the law and tackling societal injustices in the regard to women and children.

“Our societies are evolving and changes in our lifestyles are inevitable, especially the pursuit of happiness and the prevention of injustices towards women and children, including men,” Mr. Toto said.

“That does not mean that men and women should not be callous, intolerant and reckless in their conduct.

“I always implore men and women to choose carefully the type of marital unions that they prefer and/or suit them in the exercise of their rights and freedom to form and establish families and in their quest for happiness.”

Advocate Choice Damiso said the provisions on civil partnerships should be welcomed as they reflect Parliament’s awareness of prevailing social realities.

“Civil partnerships are only recognized for the purpose of sharing property at the end of the partnership,” she said.

“Failure to do so can only harm the women in these relationships.”

In the past, marriage and divorce laws were inconsistent with the Constitution, which states that spouses have equal rights and responsibilities.

Facilitating the marriage of children under 18 is now a criminal offence, among other sweeping changes in the new marriage law.

Under the new law, civil and customary marriages are different in that a customary marriage is possibly polygamous with a different way of solemnizing those marriages.

People in unregistered customary marriages must now be registered within three months of forming the union if the couple does not wish to go through the solemnization process before a magistrate or chief. However, this is not mandatory.

A major problem with two separate laws operating independently was that a decision to enter a registered customary union or a registered civil union was permanent.

The reality was that most Zimbabwean couples wanted both, and so few customary unions were registered over the past decades and most couples went through an unregistered customary union and then opted for ‘religious marriage’ or a civil marriage.

Under the new law, a monogamous couple can now have it both ways. A registered or solemnized customary union can be converted into a civil union quite simply.