Zimbabwe has introduced a new marriage law that gives equal rights to girlfriends and legally married women upon the dissolution of the union or death of the husband.
The Marriage Act (Chapter 5:15) was signed May 27 and took effect at the end of August.
“The most notable changes in the new law are the recognition of civil and customary law marriage as the same. As under customary law marriages, parties were not considered to be married at law,” Rumbidzai Venge, a lawyer based in the nation’s capital of Harare stated.
“Upon the death of a husband or dissolution of the marriage, very little could be experienced in terms of property rights, particularly by women who were disenfranchised in a lot of these unions,” he explained.
Unlike in the past, the new law recognizes civil partnerships, which are not marriages but are recognized only for property sharing.
A civil partnership is a relationship between a man and woman older than the age of 18 who live together on a genuine domestic basis. The union can co-exist with any other marriage, including a civil union.
Abigail Matsvayi, director of the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association, explained:
“So, when the relationship is terminated, any one of these two can use the civil partnership provision, to get protection which is also accorded to married people that are divorcing. A Matrimonial Causes Act will be used to determine the dissolution of the relationship, and how property is shared.”
Meanwhile, apart from recognizing all marriages, the new law outlaws child marriages by setting a minimum age of 18 for marriages and criminalizes anyone involved in child marriage.