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German federal law has increased the potential duration of maternity leave five times since 1985. A theoretical model demonstrates that the cumulative return probability at potential duration cannot decline unless the mother's employment conditions or career expectations change. We estimate return to work hazards from the German Socio-Economic Panel for women bearing children in the period 1984–1991 and predict cumulative return probabilities for first-time mothers and mothers with a previous birth. The pattern of cumulative return probabilities as potential duration increases is consistent with the hypothesis that employment conditions or career expectations frequently change for mothers taking longer leaves.