In South Africa, women would marry in accordance with customary law and could not even structure a comprehensive financial plan inasmuch as they were relegated to the status of a perpetual minor. In fact, a woman could not acquire or own assets and could not inherit property from her deceased husband's estate. Some custom. Who could inherit? The eldest son, of course. But, that's all changed.

On November 15, 2000, the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act 120 of 1998 was passed and it immediately put wives on an equal footing with their husbands because the act gave recognition to all customary marriages, irrespective of whether they were contracted before or after November 15, 2000. It's taken a few years for it to filter down and to be understood.

"Women are now better placed to achieve financial freedom," says Lebo Monyatsi, of Old Mutual Personal Financial Advice. "A woman in a customary marriage can now make a will and dispose and bequeath her assets to whomever she nominates as her beneficiaries."

Incidentally, Old Mutual based in South Africa provides South Africans access to global markets, international investment expertise, and financial advice. Through its life assurance, asset management, banking, and general insurance operations, the company provides world class investment options to more than four million South African clients.

Monyatsi points out that now the husband needs to obtain prior permission from his wife, should he decide to take on a second wife. This permission must be confirmed via a court order. Monyatsi says this is an important point to consider since a subsequent marriage will definitely have an impact on the family’s financial plans. Obviously, bigamy is not a problem there, eh? I guess change goes only so far.

Under the new Customary Marriages Act, termination of a customary law marriage can only be done through divorce decree, which must be issued by a court of law. Previously, divorce was an issue determined by the husband’s family, which clearly put women and children at risk. Okay, at least it's moving in the right direction.

Old Mutual recommends that parties in a customary marriage consult with a personal financial adviser whenever they need to draw up a financial plan. They feel that a financial adviser will be able to explain the different acts governing customary marriages and will look at the financial goals of both spouses.

With all these marriages, maybe South Africa's the place to open a financial planning firm.

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