In law, the term void ab initio is often used in connection with contracts, property, and marriages.
Legal jargon is often confusing and difficult to understand. For a layman, legal terminology is like Greek or Latin. In fact, some of the legal terms are derived from Greek and Latin words. 'Ab initio' is a Latin term that is used in different contexts. In Latin, 'ab' means from and 'initio' means beginning. So, meaning of the term 'ab initio' is 'from the beginning'. In the legal context, the term ab initio is used as 'void ab initio'.
Void ab initio
The meaning of the word void is empty or containing nothing. Legally, void means invalid or having no legal force or effect. Void ab initio means legally invalid from the very beginning. If a document or act is declared void ab initio, it means that the document/act was invalid from the date it was made. The law treats as if the document/act never existed. The meaning of the legal term void ab initio can be explained better with a few examples.
Example 1: A had two wives, when he married B, who was unaware of this fact at the time of marriage. After a few months, B came to know about A's wives. B filed a petition for divorce, which was not granted, because the marriage was considered void ab initio. According to law, the marriage was invalid from the very beginning, as it is illegal to have more than one wife at a time. So, a divorce is not needed to end a marriage that never existed. The marriage was not legally binding from the very beginning, because A had two wives at the time of his marriage with B.
Example 2: According to law, a contract made for an illegal or immoral purpose is not valid. A promises to pay B $10,000 for destroying C's property. B accepts the offer. According to the terms of the contract, B destroys C's property; but A refuses to pay. In that case, B cannot approach a court for enforcing the contract, as the purpose of the contract was illegal. The contract is void ab initio. It was invalid from the very beginning.
A contract entered into by a mentally incompetent person is considered void ab initio. If the performance of the contract is based on some event that is impossible to happen, such a contract is also considered void ab initio. In short, void ab initio means completely void or void from the very beginning. Both the terms void and void ab initio means invalid with no legal force or effect. However, the term 'voidable' has a different meaning.
Void and Voidable
If void means invalid from the very beginning, voidable means capable of being invalidated. If a contract made for an illegal purpose is void ab initio; a valid contract can be declared void, by a party to the contract, on grounds like fraud or misrepresentation, lack of free will, or mutual mistake. If a party was forced to enter a contract, he can choose to make it void. If a party to a contract is a minor, he can choose to cancel the contract. So, the contract is legal and valid, till one of the parties chooses to make it void.
A void contract is invalid from the very beginning, whereas a voidable contract is legal and valid till one or more parties can choose to make it void at any time. So, entering into a contract for an illegal purpose is void and unenforceable. It is considered that such a contract was never formed. However, a voidable contract is legal, valid and enforceable; but can be made void by one of the parties to the contract.
The same principle applies to void and voidable marriages. A void marriage is invalid from the very beginning, but a voidable marriage is legal and valid till one party decides to make it void. This happens on grounds like fraud, misrepresentation, duress, etc. For example, A forced B to marry her, on the pretext of pregnancy. After marriage, B came to know about the fabricated pregnancy. B may choose to move the court to get the marriage annulled or continue with the marriage. So, the marriage is legal and valid, but B can move the court from annulment.
In short, void ab initio is a term that is commonly used in law, and it means invalid from the very beginning. A voidable contract becomes invalid from the date on which the court declares it void; but if a contract is declared void ab initio, it means that the contract was never valid, or it never existed in the eyes of law.