A TEENAGE girl 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 insisted it was a nurturing environment teaching Christian ideals; the mother claimed it was controlled by a "self-proclaimed prophet'' and rife with psychological and emotional abuse.

After the mother left and moved in with a new partner, the father warned 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 not necessary to put 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 has a culture which is physically, psychologically and emotionally abusive,'' Justice Garry Watts said.

An independent family consultant found the community, which has settlements in New South Wales and interstate, had features associated with both cults and alternative lifestyle communities.

The mother asserted 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 destructive 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 a year 12 or tertiary qualification, the court heard.

In claims supported by several former community members, the mother alleged women were beaten and that adults and older children used physical discipline including hitting and punching younger children.

The community's leader - who has a second wife and more than a dozen children - gave evidence that incidents of family violence in the group were less common than elsewhere.

Justice Watts, however, 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 from the community would likely cause distress.

He ordered that the girl attend a mainstream school and undergo protective counselling.