Zimbabwe’s Marriage Certificates Under Scrutiny: Potential Invalidity Looms

HUNDREDS of marriage certificates  that were issued after September 2022 may be “null and void” because they cite a no longer valid law, it has emerged.

On May 27, 2022, President Emmerson Mnangagwa passed into law a new marriage law, the Marriages Act (Chapter 5:17) which brought radical changes to the marriage laws in Zimbabwe, with the Marriage Act (Chapter 5:11) and Customary Marriages Act (Chapter 5:07) being repealed.

The Act introduced a civil partnership and a qualified civil marriage and recognises an unregistered customary law union as a marriage. The law also states that marriages are entered into only between men and women above 18 years, making it a criminal offence to facilitate marriage of persons under 18 years.

The Law Society of Zimbabwe (LSZ) has urged couples to check their marriage certificates after a worrying discrepancy was identified whereby certificates have been issued referenced to an invalid Act.

While the law itself has been updated, the physical marriage certificates have not, meaning  that couples are unknowingly holding onto documents that incorrectly cite “Chapter 5:11” of the act.

“It has come to our attention that marriage certificates currently being issued by the Registrar-General’s Office contain an error. The certificates incorrectly cite Chapter 5:11 of the Marriage Act [Chapter 5:17],” LSZ executive secretary Edward Mapara said in a public notice.

“We advise that lawyers and individuals rectify this error by taking the incorrect certificates to (one) Mr Mpala at the Registrar-General’s Office for amendment.

“Furthermore, members instructed in divorce proceedings should ensure the marriage certificates are corrected, as a divorce cannot be founded on a defective certificate.”

The public notice was confirmed by LSZ spokesperson Richard Chidza.

The revelation of defective marriage certificates has sent panic and shockwaves among couples who tied the knot post-September 2022. Many individuals, including legal experts and marriage counsellors have expressed concern over the potential ramifications of the oversight.

Family Law lawyers have echoed similar sentiments, emphasising the need for immediate action to rectify the defective certificates. They underscored the importance of compliance with legal requirements to safeguard the rights and interests of married couples.

Legal expert Aaron Hamauswa said without correcting the information on the marriage certificate, the marriage is null and void according to the country’s laws.

“The High Court has the power to declare a marriage void where the grounds for doing so exist. Where there is a declaration of nullity, it is as if the parties never entered into a marriage at all,” Hamauswa said.

“The grounds on which a marriage can be declared void are classified into two; non-compliance with the formal requirements and non-compliance with the material requirements like in this case.”

The mistake could likely affect hundreds of people who wedded so that they could relocate to the diaspora as a couple. For them, the process of rectification poses additional challenges, including logistical and bureaucratic hurdles.

“We thought we had completed all the necessary formalities to legalise our marriage upon returning to Zimbabwe. The revelation of a defective certificate has caught us off guard and necessitated urgent corrective measures,” a couple who preferred to remain anonymous said.

The new Marriage Act also gives equal rights to “girlfriends” and women in registered unions upon the dissolution of a marriage or death of the husband.  Unlike in the past, the new law recognises civil partnerships, which are not marriages, but are recognised only for property sharing.

Civil marriages under the previous Marriage Act were considered superior and handled differently upon divorce. But now all marriages are treated equally, giving Zimbabweans in other marriages more rights to inherit property.

The new law outlaws child marriages by setting a minimum age of 18 for marriages and criminalises child marriages. AMH

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