Women are no longer prepared to put up with an unhappy marriage, a Birmingham solicitor has warned.

David Pickering, head of the family team at law firm Cobbetts, spoke out in the wake of the festive period which typically sends many to the divorce courts.

He said: "Many couples decide to take legal advice on divorce, financial and children issues in January after the strains of one final Christmas spent together are behind them.

"Following the tensions that come to a head in the period, the tendency for people to begin the legal process to end their marriages increases five fold in the first few weeks after Christmas.

"Couples and families who are experiencing problems find that spending an extended amount of time together can often be the final straw for a relationship which is encountering difficulties. During the festive period tensions that have been bubbling away can often explode.

"The stigma previously attached to being divorced no longer exists and couples are now less willing to stay within an unhappy marriage. Women more particularly feel less 'trapped' now, given that the courts are ensuring a fair division of assets and income between both parties."

Meanwhile thousands of employees who spent the festive period dreading the return to work after the Christmas break have seen their stress levels go through the roof.

James Tait, an associate in the employment law team at Shakespeares, warned bosses to keep their eyes peeled for symptoms and to ensure they are fully up to speed on legislation.

The three most frequently cited scenarios that generate maximum stress are death, divorce and moving house.

Work related stress is estimated to cost employers £400 million every year.

With somewhere between 50 per cent and 65 per cent of employees considering they suffer "above average stress at work" the workplace remains a potential hot bed of legal claims for employers.

Mr Tait said that, in particular, public sector workers appeared to be worst off.

Workers in the public arena are currently absent on average for 12.9 days for every year, as opposed to nine days in the private sector.

Tell tale signs to look out for are poor performance at work - a member of staff making mistakes which they would not normally make? A change in behaviour, mood swings, people disappearing during working hours, taking long lunch breaks, arriving late to work or going home early.

Transferring staff to other roles or area of work, redistributing the work, giving some extra help for a while, arranging treatment and counselling, and providing mentoring schemes are all options for employers.

"Identifying the cause of stress is probably the most difficult thing to do but also the most beneficial to you, your staff and your company both emotionally and financially," noted Mr Tait.