The new Marriages Act Chapter 5: 15 of 22 which has been enacted is revolutionary and progressive in its nature in that it introduces new concepts and of interest is the Civil Partnership concept. The Civil Partnerships concept is an interesting new dimension for the interpretation of relationships in our society. A lot of concerns and issue were raised when it was still a Bill concerning the difference between marriage and civil partnerships, the purpose, if it would affect marriages amongst other things. This article will bring into light the interpretation of the Marriages Act? concerning Civil Partnerships in Zimbabwe.
What is a Civil Partnership?
According to the new Marriages Act Chapter 5:15, Civil Partnership entails;
(1) A relationship between a man and a woman who—
(a) are both over the age of eighteen years; and
b) have lived together without legally being married to each other; and
(c) are not within the degrees of affinity or consanguinity as provided in section 7; and
(d) having regard to all the circumstances of their relationship, have a relationship as a couple living together on a genuine domestic basis; shall be regarded as being in a civil partnership for the purposes of determining the rights and obligations of the parties on dissolution of the relationship and, for this purpose, sections 7 to 11 of the Matrimonial Causes Act [Chapter 5:13] shall, with necessary changes, apply on the dissolution of any such relationship.
However, certain circumstances need to be established for one to ascertain that there was or there is a civil partnership and these include;
(a) duration of the relationship,
(b) nature and extend of the common residence,
(c) the care and support of the children if there are any,
(d) ownership, use and acquisition of the property amongst other things etc.
The court will have to determine whether a civil partnership exists under such circumstances if any issue arise.
Does the New Marriages Act affect Civil marriages Chapter 5:11?
If one is in a civil partnership with a married person who is married in terms of the civil union as encompassed in the Marriages Act (Chapter 5:11), it will not affect the dissolution and or distribution of the property according to the Matrimonial Causes Act (Chapter 5:13). This basically means that the spouse of the civil partner will still obtain what is belonging to him/her on dissolution of marriage or upon death. In instances whereby the civil partner who is married dies, the surviving spouse would be the party who is married to the civil partner in accordance to the civil union Chapter 5:11. This is reiterated according to section 5 of the Marriages Act which states that,
"Where one of the persons in a civil partnership is legally married to someone else (hereinafter called the "spouse of the civil partner"), a court applying sections 7 to 11 of the Matrimonial Causes Act [Chapter 5:13] to the division, apportionment or distribution of the assets of the civil partnership shall pay due regard to the rights and interests of the spouse of the civil partner and ensure that its order shall not extend to any assets which are proved, to the satisfaction of the court, to be assets properly belonging to the spouse of the civil partner."
In other words the affected party from the civil partnership cannot claim rights on the property acquired by the other party of the civil partnership as long as it is in his or her name and the party is in a civil union marriage.
In conclusion, the New Marriages Act (Chapter 5:15) has emanated from the societal changes and effect of the constitutional changes that have evolved. The Act is one that has been updated to take into account of changes with regards to gender equality, however it still raises eyebrows when it comes to the issue of civil partnerships. One would view civil partnerships with a married party as attacking the sanctity of marriage or civil unions, and it would need one to lack ignorance and participate in the evolvement of the law, to protect oneself.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.