Experimental data for divalent counterion binding by soil humic acid nanoparticles are set against ion distributions as ensuing from continuous Poisson–Boltzmann electrostatics and a two-state condensation approach. The results demonstrate that Poisson–Boltzmann massively underestimates the extent of binding of Ca2+ by humic acid, and that electric condensation of these counterions within the soft nanoparticulate body must be involved. The measured stability of the Ca2+–humic acid associate is also much greater than that predicted for ion pairing between single Ca2+ ions and monovalent negative humic acid sites, which also points to extensive electrostatic cooperativity within the humic acid particle. At sufficiently high pH, the charge density inside the humic acid entity may indeed become so high that the bulk particle attains a very high and practically flat potential profile throughout. At this limit, all the intraparticulate Ca2+ is at approximately the same electrostatic potential and the status of individual ion pairs has become immaterial. A two-state model, combining counterion condensation in the charged intraparticulate part of the double layer at the particle–medium interface and Donnan partitioning in the uncharged bulk of the humic acid particle, seems to lead the way to adequate modelling of the divalent counterion binding for various particle sizes and different ionic strengths.