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Adultery refers to sexual relations which are not officially legitimized; for example it does not refer to having sexual intercourse with multiple partners in the case of polygamy (when a man is married to more than one wife at a time, called polygyny; or when a woman is married to more than one husband at a time, called polyandry).

Although the legal definition of adultery differs in nearly every legal system, the common theme is sexual relations outside of marriage, in one form or another.Traditionally, many cultures, particularly Latin American ones, had strong double standards regarding male and female adultery, with the latter being seen as a much more serious violation.Extramarital sexual acts not fitting this definition are not "adultery" though they may constitute "unreasonable behavior", also a ground of divorce.The application of the term to the act appears to arise from the idea that "criminal intercourse with a married woman ...It is a non-cognizable, non-bailable criminal offence.

A police officer cannot arrest a person without a warrant in a case of adultery as adultery is a non-cognizable offence.Adultery involving a married woman and a man other than her husband was considered a very serious crime.In 1707, English Lord Chief Justice John Holt stated that a man having sexual relations with another man's wife was "the highest invasion of property" and claimed, in regard to the aggrieved husband, that "a man cannot receive a higher provocation" (in a case of murder or manslaughter). 1 (1751), also equated adultery to theft writing that, "adultery is, after homicide, the most punishable of all crimes, because it is the most cruel of all thefts, and an outrage capable of inciting murders and the most deplorable excesses." Legal definitions of adultery vary.tended to adulterate the issue [children] of an innocent husband ...and to expose him to support and provide for another man's [children]".Criminal conversation was usually referred to by lawyers as crim.