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

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 He too was taken in to police custody, officials said. Washington Post, 17 Nov. 2021 Chicago Police Department Superintendent David Brown announced on Nov. 12 that authorities had taken Spann into police custody. Audrey Conklin, Fox News, 17 Nov. 2021 Diallo was taken into police custody Wednesday morning as part of an investigation into a Nov. 4 assault on one of the team's other players. Vanessa Etienne,, 12 Nov. 2021 Officials later said the man was in police custody and had been hospitalized with hypothermia. NBC News, 11 Nov. 2021 Sells tried to get away but his injuries landed him in the ICU and in police custody. ABC News, 11 Nov. 2021 Diallo had been in police custody for about 36 hours. New York Times, 11 Nov. 2021 When Americans protested the killing of George Floyd last year, the French followed suit with their own mass movement tied to Adama Traoré, a young Black man who died while in police custody in a Paris suburb. Noah Bierman, Los Angeles Times, 11 Nov. 2021 Johnson was free to go after signing the form, but his money remained in police custody. Perry Vandell, The Arizona Republic, 10 Nov. 2021

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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Dictionary Entries Near custody



custody battle

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Statistics for custody

Last Updated

25 Nov 2021

Cite this Entry

“Custody.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 3 Dec. 2021.

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More Definitions for custody



English Language Learners Definition of custody

: 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
: 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

More from Merriam-Webster on custody

Nglish: Translation of custody for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of custody for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about custody


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