cus·​to·​dy ˈkə-stə-dē How to pronounce custody (audio)
plural custodies
: immediate charge and control (as over a ward or a suspect) exercised by a person or an authority
also : safekeeping

Example Sentences

She has sole custody of her daughter. The judge granted custody to the grandparents. The bank provides safe custody for valuables.
Recent Examples on the Web The suspect in the unexplained spate of violence is 21-year-old Carlos Reales Dominguez, a former UC Davis student who has pleaded not guilty and remains in custody in the Yolo County jail. Anita Chabria, Los Angeles Times, 1 June 2023 Solomon Peña is taken into custody by Albuquerque, New Mexico, police officers, on Jan. 16, in southwest Albuquerque. Morgan Lee,, 1 June 2023 Adams County sheriff’s deputies took Bliefnick into custody immediately after the verdict was read. Chicago Tribune, 31 May 2023 Chagnon eventually surrendered after about forty minutes, according to court documents, and was taken into custody. The Arizona Republic, 31 May 2023 Per instructions from the dispatcher, Porter stepped out of the apartment with his hands up after police arrived then he was taken into custody, according to the probable cause affidavit for his arrest. Jake Allen, The Indianapolis Star, 31 May 2023 Bryant, 49, is already in custody for unrelated drug charges, the outlet further reported. Tracey Harrington Mccoy, Peoplemag, 31 May 2023 Masterson was taken into custody on Wednesday following the verdict. Alli Rosenbloom, CNN, 31 May 2023 In Mesa, Arizona, police took Iren Byers, 20, into custody in connection with multiple shootings from Friday afternoon to early Saturday, police said in a news release. Kalhan Rosenblatt, NBC News, 30 May 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'custody.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined above

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

Dictionary Entries Near custody

Cite this Entry

“Custody.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 7 Jun. 2023.

Kids Definition


cus·​to·​dy ˈkəs-təd-ē How to pronounce custody (audio)
: direct responsibility for care and control
: the state of being arrested or held by the police

Legal Definition


: care or control exercised by a person or authority over something or someone: as
: supervision and control over property that usually includes liability for damage that may occur
: 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
: 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

Latin custodia, from custod-, custos guardian

More from Merriam-Webster on custody

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!