Common law marriage is said to have occurred when two people have been in a relationship for a length of time, and have been living together as though they were married. In countries where this type of law applies, if either of the two parties goes to court they are treated as though they were husband and wife and thus can apply to be granted compensation to the same amount that a spouse would receive. In South Africa, however, the legal system does not afford any rights to partners in these circumstances at present. You need to be legally married in order to file for a divorce or similar proceedings regardless of the length of time you have been in a relationship.
When someone asks you “what is common law marriage” and asks about the costs and benefits of this type of legal assessment there are a couple of things you can consider. Firstly, a legal marriages in South Africa protects both the man and the wife equally which means that should either party file for a divorce, both person’s rights are balanced in the court. This obviously has benefits if one spouse requires the other one to pay maintenance for their living costs or the costs of their children. It makes the case speedier and is more likely to result in justice being served. The South African legal system does not allow for common law marriage which often disadvantages people when they end a relationship on poor terms. They have little access to the law for compensation and are often left without much recourse.
If you would like to learn more about your rights in South Africa there are a number of NGOs and Civil Society groups who provide free assistance to you. There is always the potential that you will be able to enhance your own understanding of your rights so that you are protected in a dispute and can answer the question “what is common law marriage?”