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In broad terms, conjugal rights are the affections and privileges enjoyed between two people in marriage. The word "conjugal" often brings up sexual connotations, and while such relations are certainly a part of a marital relationship, these rights also include all other aspects of affection and companionship, including co-habitation and joint property rights. Legally speaking, the disruption of marital privileges by a third party, called alienation of affections, may be grounds for a civil suit, but not often a criminal prosecution. Conjugal rights is thought of most often perhaps in regard to prison inmates, who in some countries and regions are allowed conjugal visits in order to promote healthy relationships between spouses.
The violation of conjugal rights may be grounds for a civil suit. For example, if one spouse commits adultery, and the other spouse wishes to file a divorce, the split may cause conflicts of interest as to who retains child custody, property and possessions, or receives damages. Since the situation is noncriminal, it would have to be meted out in civil court, where it would be decided whose conjugal rights were violated and how the situation ought to be settled.
Not all prisons recognize conjugal rights. The issue over whether to permit conjugal visits is often decided on a regional or state level. Some states allow conjugal visits, but only in certain prisons. Maximum security prisons, for example, often prohibit inmates from making any contact with the outside world, no matter the reason. Most prisons that do allow conjugal visits require that a marital relationship exist between the inmate and visitor; common law marriage relationships are not allowed conjugal visits in many prisons. If a prison does allow conjugal visits, it's fairly routine for a certain amount of privacy and time in a special lodging to be permitted. When prisons allow spouses time together, it's in the hope that by retaining healthy relationships with loved ones, inmates will lead healthier lives and decrease their chances of repeat offending.
The issue of conjugal rights has been a hot topic within the gay rights movement. Traditionally, same-sex partners have not been allowed many of the conjugal rights that heterosexual partners enjoy. These rights include hospital visits, joint property rights and tax benefits. Throughout the world, certain regions have begun to permit many of the same rights of marriage to same-sex partners as have been traditionally reserved for heterosexual couples. Some prisons have also begun to allow same-sex conjugal visits.