Contrary to widely held belief, South African couples who live together do not become legally married under common law after a set period of time.
Technically, partners living together have no legal duties towards each other, even if they have been together for a very long time. This form of domestic partnership is not currently recognised under South African law.
As more couples choose to live together rather than get married, changes are being made to the law that will give unmarried couples the opportunity to establish legal partnership rights.
Couples living together who want to clarify their relationship and enter into a lawful agreement can enter into a cohabitation agreement.
This is a relatively simple contract that includes details of their assets, property and the financial contributions each partner makes to their joint home, and is ratified by an appointed lawyer.
South African law will soon encompass this evolution in cohabitation.
The proposed Domestic Partnership Bill will assist couples that choose to cohabit rather than marry. It will provide the option to register their relationship as a domestic partnership, creating similar rights and responsibilities as a marriage union.