cus·​to·​dy | \ ˈkə-stə-dē How to pronounce custody (audio) \
plural custodies

Definition of custody

: immediate charge and control (as over a ward or a suspect) exercised by a person or an authority also : safekeeping

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Examples of custody in a Sentence

She has sole custody of her daughter. The judge granted custody to the grandparents. The bank provides safe custody for valuables.
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Recent Examples on the Web Protesters set up fake bodies that were meant to represent children in ICE custody, wrapped in aluminum blankets. Anna Giaritelli, Washington Examiner, "Leader of Vietnamese group charged with trespassing at ICE director's home," 13 Oct. 2020 Coast-to-Coast serves mainly older clients with family law cases involving divorce, custody and domestic violence issues. Andrew Boryga,, "The pandemic is pushing people to financial ruin. And the worst hardships lie ahead," 11 Oct. 2020 Since the victim was neither in police custody nor a subject of an investigation, charges could not be brought, according to a statement released by the Maricopa County Attorney's Office. Madeline Ackley, The Arizona Republic, "Sexual misconduct charges dropped against Maricopa County sheriff's deputy," 10 Oct. 2020 Elsheikh and Kotey have been held since October 2019 in American military custody. Matthew Barakat, Star Tribune, "Brits accused in beheading of hostages plead not guilty," 9 Oct. 2020 Seven more people linked to a militia group known as the Wolverine Watchmen are in custody on state charges, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said. Melissa Quinn, CBS News, "Feds bust alleged plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer," 9 Oct. 2020 They are being held in U.S. marshals' custody pending their detention hearing Tuesday morning. NBC News, "Whitmer conspiracy allegations tied to 'boogaloo' movement," 9 Oct. 2020 After a stint in a federal prison, he was transferred to state custody, but his attorney on Friday declined to specify exactly where. Megan Crepeau,, "Former Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke withdraws appeal of his conviction in slaying of Laquan McDonald," 9 Oct. 2020 The Detroit Free Press reported that one of the people in custody facing state charges is from Milford. Sarah Kopit,, "Disinformation Has Neighbors Fighting in Small-Town America," 9 Oct. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'custody.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of custody

15th century, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for custody

Middle English custodie, from Latin custodia guarding, from custod-, custos guardian

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Time Traveler for custody

Time Traveler

The first known use of custody was in the 15th century

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Statistics for custody

Last Updated

19 Oct 2020

Cite this Entry

“Custody.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Oct. 2020.

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More Definitions for custody


How to pronounce custody (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of custody

law : the legal right to take care of a child (such as a child whose parents are divorced)
: the state of being kept in a prison or jail
formal : the act of protecting or taking care of something


cus·​to·​dy | \ ˈkə-stə-dē How to pronounce custody (audio) \

Kids Definition of custody

1 : direct responsibility for care and control The boy is in the custody of his parents.
2 : the state of being arrested or held by police The suspect has been taken into custody.



Legal Definition of custody

: care or control exercised by a person or authority over something or someone: as
a : supervision and control over property that usually includes liability for damage that may occur
b : care and maintenance of a child that includes the right to direct the child's activities and make decisions regarding the child's upbringing — compare visitation
joint custody
: custody of a child shared by divorced or separated parents who alternate physical custody of and share in decisions regarding the child

called also shared custody

physical custody
: custody that includes sharing a residence with a child
shared custody
: joint custody in this entry
sole custody
: custody of a child awarded to only one person and usually to a parent
temporary custody
: custody awarded until a final judgment in a matter (as a divorce) is made
c : official restraint on freedom (as by arrest or imprisonment or by release on bail, personal recognizance, probation, or parole) — compare arrest
constructive custody
: custody of a person (as a parolee) who is not under immediate physical control but whose freedom is controlled or restrained by legal authority
penal custody
: custody of a person (as in a correctional institution) as a form of punishment
physical custody
: custody of a person (as an arrestee) whose freedom is under the actual and immediate control of an official
preventive custody
: custody of a person (as a criminal defendant awaiting trial) for the purpose of preventing further possible dangerous or criminal behavior
protective custody
: physical custody of a person for his or her own safety

History and Etymology for custody

Latin custodia, from custod-, custos guardian

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