A teenager has been ordered by the Family Court to live with her father in a religious community, despite her mother's claims it was a "destructive cult" that exposed the girl to harm.
The 14-year-old was born into the community her parents joined 30 years ago. The father said it was a nurturing environment teaching Christian ideals; the mother said it was controlled by a "self-proclaimed prophet" and rife with psychological abuse.
After the mother left and moved in with a new partner, the father said she would "burn in hell". For legal reasons, the family cannot be named.
Each parent sought sole responsibility for the girl, who divided her time between them.
A judge in Sydney has made orders for her protection but ruled it was unnecessary to remove the girl into her mother's care.
"I am unable to accept the mother's assertion that either the leader or the community as a whole have a culture which is physically, psychologically and emotionally abusive," Justice Garry Watts said.
An independent family consultant assessed the community, which has settlements in NSW and interstate, as having features associated with cults and alternate lifestyle communities.
The mother said that leaving the child there risked exposing her to violence, compromised her education and could harm her through teachings that women must submit to a husband's discipline.
She described to the court a cult where polygamy was accepted and women were taught their purpose was to bear children and serve their husband.
The girl was home schooled. Year 9 NAPLAN tests found her numeracy skills were below the minimum standard and her writing score was too low to chart.
No girls in the community had attained a year 12 or tertiary qualification, the court heard, and if they attended TAFE they had to choose from fitness training, cookery or beauty therapy.
The community's leader in Sydney - who took a second wife and has more than 12 children - said while the Bible decreed that "women should obey their husbands," he did not interpret this as allowing physical violence.
But Justice Watts found the girl "delightful, mature and verbally articulate." In ordering that she live with her father and regularly see her mother, he took into account the girl's wishes and the family consultant's opinion that removing her would likely cause distress.
To safeguard her interests, he ordered that she attend a mainstream school, undergo protective counselling and speak to the leader, so he could say the Bible did not authorise husbands to discipline their wives physically.