By Elsabe Steenhuisen


This is a complex issue with legal and moral implications which are briefly dealt with here. The full discussion is available on our website.

Marriage is a special type of juristic act resembling a contract, but remaining sui generis as marriage creates a status while ordinary contracts do not. The right to marry is not protected in our Constitution, but it was held that sec 10 in the Bill of Rights should be interpreted so as to afford protection to the core elements of the institution of marriage and family life and the right and duty of the parties to live together as spouses.

In light of the above, should there be a problem when a person opts to change their status from unmarried to married in order to obtain other rights, and then opts to get divorced upon securing such other rights? In other words, is it correct to refuse a divorce in order to punish a person for obtaining these other rights by forcing a person to stay married? Is it a legal problem, a moral problem, or both?

The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) discovered in 2010 that almost 7 000 South Africans ended up in fake marriages with foreigners in the past three years. “In cases where the transaction is honoured, the victim will approach Home Affairs… to apply for a new identity document, claiming his or her ID is lost. When records show the applicant is married, he or she will claim the marriage took place without his or her consent, and will then seek annulment. Often, when this scam happens, the foreigner has by then already obtained citizenship and/or permanent residence in the country.” ( politics/7-000-locals-in-fraudulentmarriages-670475).

ProBono.Org encountered at least three scenarios in this situation:

  1. One of the spouses had no idea of the marriage but found out later by chance that he/she is married. One normally asks for expungement from the DHA and if necessary one would approach the court asking for an order to compel the DHA to expunge.
  2. Both spouses agreed to the marriage – the SA citizen is normally compensated or promised compensation for the assistance given to the non-SA citizen. The non-SA citizen usually disappears immediately or a short while thereafter. In most instances the parties did not have an intimate relationship or at most, a few liaisons.
  3. Both spouses agreed to the marriage – one of the spouses is totally innocent and the behaviour of the other spouse comes as a shock. Sometimes the SA citizen ensures large gifts from a foreign spouse and then disappears, or a SA citizen was naive and did not know that the noncitizen had ulterior motives.

Should the courts refuse to grant adivorce in scenarios two and three,based on the view that no marriage was concluded, or that the marriage was concluded for fraudulent purposes and the plaintiff comes to the court with unclean hands?

Sec 11(6) and 26(b) of the Immigration Act 13 of 2002 deal with the legal requirements for spousal visas and spousal permits. Once the marriage has been in place for five years, permanent residency can be applied for but the permit shall lapse if at any time within two years of the issuing of the permit the good faith spousal relationship no longer exists.

But the question remains: how should the court view marriages as stated in scenarios two and three – valid, void or voidable? The Martens (1952) and Maseko (1992) cases give us the answer. Provided the marriage has been properly solemnised, its validity is unaffected where the parties marry for a purpose extraneous to marriage. In such instances one can say that the parties married without the intention of establishing a true marriage relationship. For example, if they enter into it as ‘a joke’, or for the purpose of enabling one party to enter or remain in the other party’s country, or to be permitted to leave his or her own country – the marriage is valid.

Another problem arises – what grounds is the plaintiff going to present as reasons for an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage relationship?

We advise that the allegations and the evidence should provide the real reasons for the marriage.


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