By Spy Uganda
Zimbabwe has ushered in a new marriage law that gives equal rights to “girlfriends” and women in registered unions upon the dissolution of a marriage or death of the husband.
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 said.
“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 said.
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.
“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,” Abigail Matsvayi, director of the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association said. “A Matrimonial Causes Act will be used to determine the dissolution of the relationship, and how property is shared.”
The use of the Matrimonial Causes Act was not possible for any marriage apart from civil marriage in the past.
Judith Kavu, a member of the Zimbabwe Widows, Widowers and Orphans Association said that she was happy with the new law.
“As an organization that deals with victims of unregistered marriages in most cases, we welcome this new law as it is progressive as it is in line with the principle of equality stated in the Constitution and our laws,” said Kavu.
The new law has brought a radical change to marriage laws in Zimbabwe with the Marriage Act (Chapter 5:11) and Customary Marriages Act (Chapter 5:07) being repealed.