South African Law on Marriage Annulment

By Brin Quick

South Africa image by bluefern from <a href=''></a>

Remember when Britney Spears got married, and then annulled the marriage 55 hours later? Or when actress Renee Zellweger annulled her marriage to country singer Kenny Chesney after four months? Celebrity annulments may make headlines, but many regular people also seek to have marriages annulled. The criteria for legal annulments varies from country to country, and annulment law in South Africa differs greatly from that of the United States.

Definition explains that an annulment differs from a divorce in that it voids the marriage in the eyes of the law. Legally, it's as if the marriage never happened; unlike a divorce, it requires no support payments or division of property. Also, the process seems relatively quick and painless compared to a divorce, which can be a long, drawn-out process with far-reaching effects. Basically, an annulment serves as the adult version of a "do-over."


Marriage law in South Africa derives from the Marriage Act of 1961, incorporated into the country's post-apartheid constitution in 1994, which defines legal marriage as the union of one man and one woman, although in recent years some constitutional challenges have resulted in changes to the law. The Recognition of Customary Marriages Act of 1998 recognizes and provides some legal protection to polygamous marriages enshrined in traditional African culture. The Civil Unions Act of 2006 allows same-sex civil unions which, while not marriages, afford partners the same legal rights they'd have in a traditional marriage.

Read More: Can You Get an Automatic Annulment Within 30 Days of Marriage?

Void Marriages

In South Africa, two categories of annulments exist, according to void marriages and voidable marriages. Never legal to begin with, a void marriage includes marriage between two people of the same gender or where one partner's already married, aside from some traditional polygamous marriages. The law also counts as void an incestuous marriage, although South Africa does allow marriages between cousins, or if one of the parties was underage and didn't have parental consent. Because void marriages were never legal, typically there's no need for a formal annulment. The parties can simply walk away from the “marriage” and get on with their lives, although they may wish to obtain a formal declaration of annulment to avoid any future legal problems.

Voidable Marriages

The second category of annulments, voidable marriages, includes initially legal marriages that a judge can invalidate. These include situations such as duress or intimidation, where one party forces the other into the marriage; impotence; fraud or misrepresentation (where one party claims to be something or someone that he's not); or if the woman is pregnant by another man at the time of the marriage.


If the marriage does not fall into any of legally recognized categories, then only a divorce can dissolve it. Because marriage law in South Africa contains such complexities, it may be difficult to determine whether or not your particular situation falls under any of the annulment criteria. Seek the advice of a legal professional to determine whether or not annulment will work for you.