A friend asked me to comment on how biblical courtship applies to women who have been widowed or divorced. My understanding is that a woman who has been married, and then widowed or divorced, may (under certain circumstances) return to her father’s house. Whether she does or not is up to her, and of course will be influenced by the circumstances — particularly the circumstance of whether she is a mother or not.
If she returns to her father’s house, then the rights, responsibilities, and prerogatives that attend that decision would apply. If not, then not. We can see this principle operating in a particular circumstance that Leviticus dealt with.
“If the priest’s daughter also be married unto a stranger, she may not eat of an offering of the holy things. But if the priest’s daughter be a widow, or divorced, and have no child, and is returned unto her father’s house, as in her youth, she shall eat of her father’s meat: but there shall no stranger eat thereof” (Lev. 22:12-13).
With regard to courtship, I believe a woman who is the head of her own house as a result of losing her husband has every right to function as the head of that house — which would include the decision to bring a new head of the house — provided he is a Christian — into it.
“The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:39).
So then, suppose a young woman marries when she is 18 and is widowed when she is 19. If she returns to her father’s house, then she is returning to the previous authority structure, and that would include courtship. If she does not return, then she makes her own decisions. If she has a child, I would recommend that she not return to her father’s house. Of course, in all such circumstances, her relatives should support her in her hardship either way, but that is not the same thing as reassuming paternal responsibility.
On the other end of the spectrum, if a woman is widowed when she is 59, for her to move back under her 79-year-old father’s authority would be just plain weird. For all the interesting situations between the ages of 19 and 59, we should consult with wisdom — keeping the distinction between principles and methods ever in mind.