Marital estrangement and formal divorce are vital conjunctures for married women’s kinship relations and life course, where a horizon of future possibilities are revalued and negotiated at the interstices of custom, law, and social and ritual obligations. In this article, after delineating the forms of customary and civil marriage and the possibilities for divorce or estrangement from each, I describe how some married women in Swaziland and South Africa mediate this complex social field for their children and families through pensions and continuing to pay for their partners’ insurance coverage. This was not solely out of avarice to reap future benefits as spouses. Rather, in a context of patriarchal relations, gender-based violence and economic dispossession, women seek to maintain potential financial grounds through insurance resources, acknowledge their children’s paternity, and fulfil enduring obligations to in-laws by partially contributing to the eventual funerals of their spouses and kin.



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Social Dynamics


Taylor & Francis

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This is an Author’s Original Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in X in Y, available online: