It’s something that’s been brewing in your mind for quite some time now. You’re on cloud nine and can’t imagine the rest of your life without the person you have been dating and building a life with. With equal parts nervousness and excitement, and the butterflies in your stomach fluttering faster and faster, you seriously consider taking your relationship to the next level. Of course, it’s more than just getting down on one knee and popping the question. So obtaining tips and legal advice for getting engaged in South Africa is essential to ensure you are in the know, protected and prepared.

More than a gesture of commitment, it’s a legally binding agreement

Let’s put all the romance aside for a moment and look at engagement from a legal point of view: essentially it’s a legal agreement. More specifically, an agreement to get married on a specific date or at some point. “It’s an agreement between two people who have a serious intention of creating a legal obligation in the future. A contract to contract, if you will” explains Adv. Jackie Nagtegaal, LAW FOR ALL’s Managing Director.

And, because engagement is a legal binding agreement, it certainly also has consequences in the eyes of the law if broken off (more on this a little later in the feature).

Getting engaged with all the bells and whistles is in no way a legal prerequisite for a valid engagement in South Africa. In fact, there are no formalities required. “The table at a romantic restaurant, shimmering diamond ring and fancy engagement party are no more than part of customs and traditions, says Nagtegaal.

Being in love isn’t enough: not everyone can legally get engaged

Anyone who wants to put a ring on it must have the capacity to understand the nature and consequences of getting engaged fully. “A person who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, for example, may not be able to understand what they agree to and can’t legally get engaged,” adds Nagtegaal.

What’s more, to get engaged, both partners must be adults in the eyes of the law (at least 18 years old). An exception can be made for minors whose parents consent or who have been emancipated. Keep in mind that minors also need permission from the Minister of Home Affairs to get married.

No one may bully you into getting engaged: “Both partners must absolutely and unequivocally agree to the engagement. What’s more, there mustn’t be any law that prohibits you from getting married, meaning you can’t get engaged to a blood relative or more than one person unless you intend to get married under Customary Law, which allows for multiple partners,” clarifies Nagtegaal.

They said “Yes!”: What now?

 Well, pop the champagne and enjoy the moment, for starters! Of course, with that “yes”, must be an understanding that you have now made a promise to each other to get married, which is a big commitment. A legal commitment to be exact. If all goes well and your post-engagement life confirms your compatibility, then that’s a one-way ticket down the aisle.

What if things go south? Do we still have to get married?

It’s certainly not something you think about when you’re planning your big day! But if the love runs out or the future no longer seems as bright, you don’t have to get married – all the more reason to seek legal advice for getting engaged. While engagement is a contract of sorts, it’s unique in the sense that no one can demand that the promise be enforced; you cannot force someone to marry you.

My fiancé wants to break off the engagement – do I have grounds for legal action for the time and money I have invested in the relationship?

No one wants to be blindsided by a sudden calling off of an engagement! In addition to the emotional strain and stress, you invest a lot of time, money and effort in building a life together and planning a wedding. If your fiancé breaks off the engagement without a good reason (one that makes the chances of a successful marriage highly unlikely), you may potentially claim damages for breach of contract. But, your claim will be limited to the actual expenses for planning and preparing for the wedding.

So… what about the engagement ring? Who gets to keep it?

While an engagement ring isn’t legally required, it is a symbol of the commitment to get married. Of course, the expensive sparkly item can cause some contention if the engagement is called off, especially when emotions and price tags run high. If you mutually decide to end your relationship (and the engagement), the ring must be returned to whoever bought it. On the other hand, if the person who bought it breaks off the engagement without having a good reason, the recipient may keep all gifts, including the ring.

Pop the question with confidence

And, so, as your mind is racing with all these intentions to propose to your significant other, be sure to come down from cloud nine just for a moment and unpack what this commitment means and seek legal advice for getting engaged. From there, embrace the butterflies and the euphoria and make the most of the moment.

We’ve Got Your Back!

LAW FOR ALL policies are pocket-friendly and provide comprehensive legal cover. Get access to expert legal advice when you need guidance on engagement or getting married. Our Platinum and Platinum Plus policies include a Pre-nuptial benefit. For more information on how LAW FOR ALL can help you navigate life have a look at our policies here.